US officials warn over bird flu risk

US officials warn over bird flu risk

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned people to stay away from wild birds and sick or dying poultry to limit the spread of the bird flu virus.

The warning was made during a virtual press briefing that was part of a Southeast Asia Regional Influenza Workshop hosted by the CDC and Thailand’s Public Health Ministry on Thursday.

Speaking at the briefing were Dr John MacArthur, Director of the CDC Southeast Asia Regional Office, and Dr Bill Davis, Regional Influenza Programme Director of CDC Thailand.

Dr Davis advised people to be especially careful about unprotected contact with sick or dying poultry and to avoid contact with wild birds as such animals could be infected with the virus even if they do not look sick.

“I think what we have seen based on the limited number of human cases that we have responded to and have investigated over the last two decades is that really, one of the really high risks is if you have a sick or dead chicken and the family decides or a person decides to slaughter it and prepare it for cooking. Slaughtering a chicken is an extremely high-risk event for H5N1 transmission,” he said.

Dr Davis said the CDC had seen an increase in cases over the past 20 or so years in poultry and wild birds in Asia, Europe and more recently in North and South America as well as Southeast Asia.

However, the CDC has seen no changes in the virus’ genetic sequencing that would make it more likely to infect humans or be able to spread from human to human.

“I think the risk we’re talking about with human infections comes from the fact that there are a lot more birds infected with H5N1, and so there’s more exposure between humans and infected birds,” Dr Davis said.

“So this is probably why we’ve seen a few more cases in Southeast Asia than in recent years,” he said.

Dr Davis said there are H5N1 vaccines for poultry, and it was up to different countries’ policies whether or not they should implement them. There are no vaccines for humans for H5N1, but research is being carried out.