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From the buzzards perspective...

Random articles that are created as I travel, experience new things, meet new people and discover new insights.

  • Writer's pictureEddy Weiss

Playing chicken with a train?

While I wish this blog post was about my favorite country-rap artist of all time, you will have to wait until another day to hear about Cowboy Troy and his hit "I played chicken with a train". I will let you listen as you read...

It appears that the World Health Organization has called on health officials to prepare for human outbreaks of Avian Flu. While I have been hearing about the Avian Flu for half of my professional career, I have yet to see an outbreak amongst us humanoids but this may actually be the moment.

H5N1 avian flu has been around for about 25 years and throughout those 25 years there has only been a handful of human avian flu cases. Now, I am not discounting at all how serious this is. I experienced first-hand the devastation that avian flu can bring back in 2015. My memories of that outbreak are quite vivid as I remember the almost-clandestine lines of dump trucks along gravel roads with their headlights out waiting to be loaded with thousands of dead laying hens. The outbreak in 2015 was the largest poultry health disaster in U.S. history.

So what caused the outbreak? Weeks before chickens became infected in Iowa our team reported hundreds of dead wild birds along river-ways in North-central Iowa. It was found later that the heat map of infections followed the migration patterns of wild water foul during seasonal migration. The same is happening right now.

The 2015 outbreak tapered sharply and ended in June of that year — but 3 million birds still died in that final month bringing the number to 50 million. Because of the lingering effect on the supply chain, it wasn't until several more months later that some poultry prices peaked and then normalized, according to the USDA.

All in all, the outbreak stayed out of mainstream news and most Americans have no idea it ever happened, but most are also not aware that Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of eggs and chicken.

Last Wednesday a northwest Iowa commercial turkey facility has reported a bird flu outbreak resulting in the immediate destruction of 27,650 birds. This brings the number of chickens, turkeys and other birds destroyed in Iowa due to highly pathogenic avian influenza to nearly 16 million so far.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5) viruses have been detected just recently in U.S. wild aquatic birds, commercial poultry and backyard or hobbyist flocks beginning in January 2022. We are now looking at least 24 states affected and about 23 million birds dead so far, halfway to breaking the standing 2015-2016 record.

If you haven’t noticed, the outbreak is driving up consumer prices for eggs and chicken meat that, like many costs, had already been rising due to inflation. It is a two-edged sword for me as we have a small chicken operation here at my own ranch.

So, like I said, the World Health Organization has called on health officials to prepare for human outbreaks of Avian Flu.

It's rare for a human to become infected with the avian virus and so far no human infections of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which includes the H5N1 bird flu virus, have ever been reported in the U.S.

Highlight the words “so far” in yellow highlighter.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at yesterday’s news conference. that the disease has crossed into small mammals like minks, otters, foxes, and sea lions which is cause for alarm, given the species’ similarities with humans (I personally like to think that I am quite otter-like but more sea lion shaped).

While we are being told that the risk to humans still remains low, public health officials are being told they must prepare to face outbreaks in humans and be ready to control them as quickly as possible.

Crap. Chicken crap.

Right after we did so well with COVID.

The recommendation is that countries must strengthen their avian flu surveillance in areas where humans and wild animals interact which would be about 80% of America.

Public health officials must also work with manufacturers to ensure that vaccines and antivirals are available for global use. We are not really good at this…

Foxes, dolphins, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and bears are among other species that have been infected since last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In late January, the first grizzlies to be documented with the highly pathogenic avian flu were euthanized in Montana after they were found partially blind and disoriented, with other neurological issues. And surviving infected harbor and gray seals identified in New England last summer were unable to orient themselves and swim properly.

We have known for many years that the H5N1 virus has the ability to adapt to humans very quickly and could start at least an epidemic just as fast. What is frightening is that since the first cases were discovered back in the 1990’s, there has never been so many cases worldwide as we are seeing right now.

WHO is saying that the recently discovered H5N1 mass fatality events among mammals “are probably only the tip of the iceberg. ”Now, we do not have a lot of evidence as to how the virus will adapt to become something that is transmitted human to human, but there were hundreds of cases in humans in Egypt just a few years ago leading us to believe that the virus does have the ability to become human to human.

Will you die from the avian flu? Probably not as the virus historically only sickens people, but even this could cause a massive strain on healthcare facilities, healthcare itself, responder times and abilities as well as economic catastrophe as we saw during COVID.

Insert the word "but" here.

Things could change and we really do not have the data we need to call it just yet. I have a report of an Ecuadorian girl hospitalized with the virus and had to be put under sedation and on a ventilator. While officials are not sure how she contracted the virus, it sounds like her family has a small chicken operation like my own.

Now that I have brought up the Ecuadorean girl, think for a moment the impact this could have on our border situation sooner than later. You can go back to previous blogs to see how big of an issue this really could become.

If H5N1 indeed makes a sustained crossover to humans, the potential impact could be significant and experts warn could look like what we just experienced with COVID.

The risk for sustained transmission among humans could be anything from one in 10 to one in 100,000, but again, we just do not have the data. Like with COVID, we almost need more people to get sick so we can figure out how people get sick. This predicament is not helping anyone that wants to heed the warnings and begin to prepare.

Like with COVID, there is no vaccine for humans with bird flu and since I have watched thousands of birds buried in massive pits and watched them incinerated, I don’t like my other options (but just in case, tell my wife I prefer burial over cremation).

If a vaccine were developed and approved for animals like chickens, turkeys, and pigs, it could reduce spread among livestock, as well as the risk of spillover to humans who work with them but the idea of even that investment on the heels of COVID could be staggering and horribly delayed.

You might think that this is all over-blown and exaggerated but here is the truth: the 1918 flu pandemic was thought to have been caused by birds. Both the 1918 flu and the current avian flu viruses contain genes that allow them to replicate efficiently in human bronchial cells.

When H5N1 infects humans, the inflammation it causes can lead to lung cells becoming “intensely inflamed”—to an extent not seen in a usual flu. A similar effect was noted in Spanish Flu victims, autopsies of which revealed “lungs choked with debris from the excessive inflammation,” resulting in drowning.

While seasonal flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, aches, and fatigue, according to the CDC, symptoms of H5N1 in humans are typically much more severe. They include an often high fever, weakness, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, abdominal pain, chest pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms can quickly give way to difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and/or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which is often deadly, as well as neurological effects like seizures.

Because the virus hasn’t crossed over to humans in a sustained manner, it’s uncertain what an easily transmissible human version of H5N1 might look like but we can guess, based on prior flu epidemics, that it would be very deadly to humans.

It is a fact that new zoonotic diseases, or diseases that transmit from animals to people, tend to result in high mortality rates among the people they infect. They’re not well adapted to humans and tend to cause copious amounts of damage in the lungs, though they’re not usually very transmissible.

At this point in time, it is probably wise to start thinking seriously about the “what-if’s” and as a spokesperson for WHO said yesterday, start “focusing on a game plan”.

Don't start counting your chickens...


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