How Worried Should We Be About Bird Flu Right Now?

Bird flu is once again setting many of us on edge. Early this week, health officials announced a human case of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in Texas, one that may have been caught from infected cows in the area. These recent cases in livestock and now humans are a real ongoing concern, but for the time being, the risk that bird flu poses to the public still appears to be low.

The human case was reported Sunday by Texas health officials and confirmed Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The person—identified only as a farm worker—tested positive for a strain of H5N1 influenza and had recently been exposed to cattle presumed to be infected with H5N1 as well. However, the person’s only reported symptoms so far has been eye redness, which is likely a sign of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. It’s the second human case of avian H5N1 ever reported in the U.S., following a case in 2022 involving a prison worker who was handling likely infected poultry.

The potential danger of H5N1 and other similar HPAI bird flu strains is very genuine, according to Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“Avian influenza viruses have always been ranked as the highest pandemic threat because of their ability to cause severe disease and the history of avian influenza viruses sparking flu pandemics. For example, the 1918 influenza pandemic was caused by an avian virus,” Adalja told Gizmodo in an email. “These are viruses that often have high levels of virulence with little to no population immunity to combat them. This is markedly different from seasonal flu viruses for which there is population immunity, vaccination programs, and usually less virulence.”

Strains of H5N1 bird flu have been circulating for decades, sparking large and deadly outbreaks among wild birds and sometimes domestic poultry populations. But in the past few years, there have been increasing reports of H5N1 infections in mammals such as sea lions, minks, and dolphins. Last week, local and federal health officials first announced the discovery of H5N1 cases in cows on several dairy farms in Texas and Kansas. As of now, there have been cattle cases found in

Courtney Milan writes books about carriages, corsets, and smartwatches. Her books have received starred reviews in Publishers WeeklyLibrary Journal, and Booklist. She is a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller.

Courtney pens a weekly newsletter about tea, books, and basically anything and everything else.

Before she started writing romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.

Courtney is represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency.

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