New York Times — A Flu Epidemic That Threatens Birds, Not Humans

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.MAY 4, 2015

Although much of the country has barely noticed, avian influenza — a version of the virus that generated “Killer Bird Flu!” headlines a decade ago — is now sweeping the Midwest.

More than 20 million turkeys and chickens have died or been culled; Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency; and teams of experts are trying to figure out how the new virus is spreading.

No humans have caught this flu, but health officials fear they might. They are requiring that cullers and barn-cleaners wear the kind of protective gear that Ebola workers do. Officials have also advised that everyone who was recently in contact with affected poultry operations — workers, truckers, veterinarians and so on — take Tamiflu, a flu preventive.
. . .
The H5N2 and the new H5N1 have some North American genes and so clearly emerged on this continent more recently — presumably when the H5N8 virus finally arrived and crossed with North American strains.

That may have happened last summer. Migratory ducks, geese and swans from around the world share ponds in the Arctic in summer. New flu gene mixes emerge and move south along the various migratory paths taken by the birds.

Whatever the mix of genes, dose size is also important in determining spread of the virus, said Dr. Peter Palese, a flu expert at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Human flus can infect people who inhale only one to 10 virus particles, he said, but it takes 100,000 to 1 million particles of an H5 bird flu to infect a human.

“That’s why people who sleep under their chickens in markets in Asia get it, and we don’t get it on Fifth Avenue,” Dr. Palese said.

In birds, flu is primarily an intestinal disease rather than a respiratory one, so cullers and cleaners are told to wear coveralls, face masks and goggles to prevent any barn dust — much of which is powdered feces — from entering their noses, mouths or eyes.

Dr. Palese says he believes they should wear the full hoods with battery-powered air filters used in biosafety Level 3 laboratories.

Officials, he said, should also consider giving them the vaccines developed years ago against H5N1. Although it would not be a perfect match, it might provide some protection.

Several million doses of an experimental vaccine are in the National Strategic Stockpile, said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It was created in the early days of panic over the Asian H5N1.

Blood samples from people who received the experimental vaccine years ago are now being tested to see if they contain antibodies that help protect against the new flus, a C.D.C. official said.
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One thought on “New York Times — A Flu Epidemic That Threatens Birds, Not Humans”

  1. “…
    Officials have also advised that everyone who was recently in contact with affected poultry operations — workers, truckers, veterinarians and so on — take Tamiflu, a flu preventive.
    …”

    # # #

    PUBLIC RELEASE: 7-JAN-2009
    Avian flu becoming more resistant to antiviral drugs, says Universityof Colorado study

    “…
    The avian flu, an Influenza A subtype dubbed H5N1, is evolving a resistance to a group of antiviral drugs known as adamantanes, one of two classes of antiviral drugs used to prevent and treat flu symptoms, said CU-Boulder doctoral student Andrew Hill, lead study author. The rise of resistance to adamantanes — which include the nonprescription drugs amantadine and rimantadane — appears to be linked to Chinese
    farmers adding the drugs to chicken feed as a flu preventative,
    according to a 2008 paper by researchers from China Agricultural
    University, said Hill.
    …”
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-01/uoca-afb010709.php

    A TWIV 15 Link:
    http://www.twiv.tv/2009/01/13/twiv-15-deer-mice-spanish-flu-measles-antiviral-resistance/

    ###

    Why Meat in China — and the U.S. — Has a Drug Problem
    A new study shows widespread antibiotic resistance on Chinese farms, where use of the drugs to speed animal growth is common. That could have scary impacts for the rest of the world

    By Bryan Walsh @bryanrwalshFeb. 12, 2013

    “…
    But there was always one country where that plan never quite worked: China. Chinese chicken farmers had an unfortunate habit of prophylactically dosing their birds with Tamiflu, the only antiviral drug that showed any effectiveness against H5N1. (U.S. preparations for a possible bird-flu pandemic included stockpiling millions of doses of the drug.) As a result, it became that much more difficult for health officials to track H5N1 outbreaks because Tamiflu-dosed chickens could still get infected and spread the virus but without showing the symptoms that would set off medical alarm bells. And
    overusing Tamiflu also eroded its effectiveness as over time the H5N1 virus was able to develop a resistance to the drug. Had an H5N1 human pandemic ever occurred, we may well have been helpless.
    …”

    http://science.time.com/2013/02/12/why-meat-in-china-and-the-u-s-has-a-drug-problem/

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