Your Chicken May Contain Bird Flu

We may be losing the battle to contain deadly bird flus (H5N1, H5N2, H5N8) in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control recently issued a warning about looking for crossover cases in humans.

So far this year, 47 million birds — mostly chickens — have been exterminated in 15 states to try to contain the outbreak, which had been confined primarily to Asia. It is the worst flu outbreak among livestock in U.S. history.

There is hope that the disease is becoming controllable, as egg prices nearly double and poultry prices move up. The economic damage so far has been estimated to be more than $1 billion. But the big threat is beyond prices and farm losses: If this flu mutates to become airborne or contagious among humans, it could be very dangerous. Even if the disease is controlled among livestock, it can easily mutate and come back to be even more devastating for animals next year.

People can get the new strains of avian flu simply by being in repeated contact with infected animals or by eating undercooked birds that are infected. But even if some people get the disease, it doesn’t mean it will become transmissible person to person.

Nonetheless, the disease can become transmissible if a person with another strain of influenza — a common flu like the H3N2 version that cropped up last winter — were to eat an infected bird that is undercooked. Then the two flus, one that spreads among animals and one that spreads among humans, can combine genetically in a person and produce a mutated version that is easily passed on.

The CDC is now warning that anyone who comes in contact with infected livestock and develops flu-like systems within 10 days should seek medical attention and that the case should be reported to health officials at the CDC.

There are no vaccines in the United States to fight any of the avian bird flu strains. The vaccine generated for the 2014–15 common flu season was not very effective, reported to have been unable to produce the right antibodies in as many as 77% of people who got the shot.

And if all of that isn’t enough to worry about, international health experts are reporting that chikungunya fever, a flu-like virus carried by mosquitoes, has obtained a firm foothold in South America and the Caribbean, having mutated to be more viable in the Asian tiger mosquito. It originated in Africa and spread to Asia and now the watch is out for outbreaks in the United States. The virus causes horrible flu-like symptoms, but then later, much like Lyme disease, it causes severe joint pains that can last for years.

To your heath and wealth,

Stephen L. Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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