Web Zap*Germs Archive

February 23, 2006

Keeping Bird Flu in Perspective

Jim Geraghty, writing from Turkey, injects some more sanity into the avian-flu debate. Some tasty tidbits:
Here's the bottom line on bird flu, straight from the hot zone: Those in the poultry industry ought to be a little worried and take the proper precautions. But the average chicken-and-egg eating consumer in the United States has little to worry about, even if the virus reaches American shores.

For starters, the estimate of a 55 percent fatality rate is way out of whack from Turkey's recent experience. It was believed there were 21 total infections in the country so far, with no new cases since Jan. 18. The World Health Organization later revised that number down to 12, after some suspected cases turned out to be "regular" non-avian flu. The four fatalities in Turkey were children who had direct contact with infected birds - specifically, some were playing with the decapitated head of an infected chicken, which would pretty much define "behavior with a high risk for exposure." The other cases have recuperated, and all but one have left the hospital.

You're not likely to catch the virus from eating chicken or eggs. In fact, so far there is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection for avian influenza viruses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beyond that, the agency recommends the standard anti-infection safeguards: Wash your hands, sanitize your cutting board, etc. The most likely way to catch the virus is from handling a live, infected chicken or its corpse, which is not a common occurrence for most Americans.
It is worth noting that birds infected with the H5N1 virus have interacted with humans for at least eight years, and there have been no confirmed cases of human-to-human infection.

In fact, a different strain of bird flu hit Pennsylvania 20 years ago. The 1983-84 H5N2 outbreak resulted in the destruction of approximately 17 million chickens, turkeys, and fowl in the Northeastern United States in containment efforts. The economic impact was intense - the final cost was nearly $65 million, but thankfully, no lives were lost. Today's state health officials cite that federal quarantine of Pennsylvania as a model for an outbreak today.

More recently, other strains of bird flu have been found in the United States. In 2002, an outbreak in Virginia of virus H7N2 cost the industry and federal government about $130 million. In 2004, a Maryland flock tested positive for the same strain, as well as a flock in Pennsylvania and poultry in Delaware and New Jersey. In these cases, the strains were quickly contained and eradicated thanks to close coordination and cooperation between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state and local officials, and industry leaders.
So while consumers don't have much to worry about, poultry farmers do. Consumers may abstain from chicken and eggs until the "all clear" sign is given by health authorities - and maybe not even then. Turkey's poultry industry is trying to regain consumers' confidence. In an ad published in several newspapers, a cow tells a bird, "Be patient, my bird, they called me 'mad' too."
HT: Hugh Hewitt.


Post a Comment

<< Home