Released: May 05, 2006
Bird Flu and You
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Scientists worldwide are studying a new and still emerging avian – or bird – flu. To date, news reports number into the hundreds of thousands, but speculation about the new flu and when, where and whom it may strike is simply that – speculation.
An upcoming, made-for-television movie, Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, set to air on ABC May 9 is, however, expected to spark still more interest in the new flu virus. To help separate fact from fiction, Scott Beyer, Kansas State University Research and Extension poultry specialist answered frequently asked questions about the new flu:
Q: Who is at risk from bird flu?
A: The new strain of bird flu is transmitted primarily between bird species. There are some cases in Asia and Europe in which the virus has passed from an infected bird to a person who has been in close contact with that bird, but researchers believe that the virus will have to mutate (a process in which genes rearrange themselves) several times and perhaps in a series or in a cascade of mutations before it becomes a health risk for the human population.
Q: Does that mean that the general population can ignore the prospect of new bird flu?
A: No. When a virus is new, the general population will not yet have had an opportunity to develop a natural immunity to it and scientists also will not have had the time to formulate a vaccine effective in fighting the virus. That means that normally healthy people may face increased risks from the virus. People who are immuno-compromised such as the elderly, people who are suffering from a chronic illness or children, whose immune systems are not yet fully developed, may face even greater risks.
Q: How can people protect themselves?
A: Be aware. Keep up on the news and when – and if – the virus should mutate in such a way that it becomes a health threat to the general human population, use common sense: Practice good hygiene; wash your hands frequently; get plenty of rest; eat a variety of foods; stay hydrated and away from crowds.
Q: If the flu is spread by poultry, what is the poultry industry doing to protect its flocks to keep the flu from spreading?
A: In the United States, the poultry industry has dealt with poultry viruses for years, but not this particular strain. The industry has been vigilant in testing since the 1970s. If pathological reports, blood tests, swabbing facilities and even testing farm cats and dogs near a poultry facility indicate the presence of any poultry virus, the flock is destroyed, the farm emptied and sanitized.
Poultry production techniques do, however, vary worldwide. In many places, including the Far East where the new bird flu was first identified, poultry often is raised in small, independent flocks and sold at open-air markets allowing an opportunity for infected birds to infect other flocks.
Q: Is eating chicken or eggs safe?
A. In the United States, a vigilant monitoring system keeps infected birds from entering the consumer food supply. Cooking poultry to the recommended internal temperature – 160 F – will kill the virus. Eggs also are safe. If a laying hen is infected with the virus, the hen will stop laying (eggs). Also, if for some reason, an egg is infected with the virus, cooking the egg to 160 F will kill the virus.
Q: Will migratory birds carry the infection?
A: Thats a worry, and the reason scientists are studying the birds in their current habitat and expected migratory flyways with the hope of reducing the spread of the virus. That also is why farmers are being encouraged to discourage migratory bird contact with their flocks and with their farms in general. For example, a farmer may want to allow corn stalks to stand to discourage migratory geese that need a clear field for landing.
The study of migratory birds, including ducks and geese, is ongoing, and keeping up on the news is advisable, as Kansas is a flyway for migratory birds.
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
Scott Beyer is at 785-532-1201 or firstname.lastname@example.org