US focuses on limiting spread amid record bird flu season, but vaccines could be a possibility in the future
The US is monitoring the deadliest outbreak of bird flu and considering options on how to respond.
Biden's administration is currently monitoring the US' deadliest bird flu outbreak, according to experts. Officials are considering various options for how to respond.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak is not considered to be a significant threat to human health.
There have been very few cases of avian influenza in humans worldwide. These were mostly people who came in direct contact with infected bird excretions or those who came in contact with them. One human case was reported in the United States last year. It involved a Colorado man who contracted the disease after culling infected bird carcasses. He was treated with an antiviral and isolated.
Since 2003, more than 860 cases of bird flu were reported in humans across 19 countries. More than half of those cases were fatal according to the CDC.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, stated in February that there is still a low risk for humans. He said that despite the high number of infected birds, it was impossible to assume that this will continue.
According to the CDC there have been 6,356 wild bird cases in all 50 US states. But, there may be many more. Multiple outbreaks of the disease have occurred in 47 states and affected more than 58.6 millions birds. According to the US Department of Agriculture, it has also been found in backyard flocks.
It has also been detected in other US animals, such as bears, foxes and raccoons. The virus could spread to humans more quickly as it moves through mammals.
Through the use of labs to monitor other flu viruses, the CDC can monitor the potential for the virus to be found in the communities. CNN was also informed by the CDC that they are exploring the possibility of commercial testing for these viruses being made more widely available by manufacturers.
Biden's administration stated that it was also closely monitoring the situation.
"As part of our focus on responding to any infectious disease quickly and being prepared, we continue monitoring the avian influenza outbreak. The United States has a variety of options when there is an outbreak that could threaten the safety and security of its food supply. A National Security Council official explained to CNN.
"Right now we are focusing on promoting high-impact biosafety procedures and practices.
For people who work with birds, biosafety procedures often include enhanced disinfection techniques. The CDC recommended in November that anyone who comes into contact with sick birds - even backyard flocks – should use disposable gloves, boots and eye protection.
'CDC continues taking any threat of infectious disease seriously and has assessed the avian influenza's risk to humans as very minimal. According to a National Security Council official, the Department of Agriculture is continuing to quickly respond when the virus is found in bird populations.
According to the CDC, its risk assessment tool to assess a virus' potential to cause a pandemic, determined that if the H5N1 viruses were capable of spreading easily and efficiently among people, the pandemic threat is'moderate' and that the public health consequences of such an event would also be moderate.
"This is why it's important that both the public and animal health sides take precautions to limit exposures between animal species and between animal and human beings and limit the chance that any type of virus reassortment event may allow these viruses easily to infect people and spread easily between them," the agency stated in an email to CNN.
The general precautions are to limit exposure and contain animal diseases. This includes not coming into direct contact with sick birds, fully cooking the poultry and not eating raw eggs.
You can also take precautions to get a vaccine. There are currently efforts underway.
Exploring the possibility of vaccines for animals and humans
Scott Hensley, an associate professor of microbiology at Penn State University, has been developing a vaccine candidate for humans that could be used if the virus spreads to others.
Hensley stated that vaccines will produce high levels of anti-tumor antibodies because they are essentially identical to the current strain.
He said that the vaccine works well in the laboratory and that the researchers are planning to test it with chickens this spring.
According to the CDC, a candidate virus for influenza was recently created. This virus can be used by manufacturers to create a vaccine. It is almost identical to the virus found in birds and mammals. It could be used to make a vaccine for humans 'if necessary.
According to the CDC, "Such a vaccine would likely provide good protections against circulating viruses H5N1," This information was shared with vaccine manufacturers, the CDC said.
The Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (a US Department of Agriculture division) has been researching a vaccine that could be used in an emergency situation for animals for years. It may be advantageous to immunize poultry in order to decrease the risk of the virus mutating.
Hensley stated that vaccinating poultry against avian influenza is not something that has been done in the United States. However, he believes it's time to start thinking about it.
Animals on farms, including birds, have been vaccinated against other diseases. For example, chickens are routinely vaccinated against Marek's Disease, which is caused by the herpesvirus. They are also vaccinated against Newcastle, an illness that can affect the respiratory system, infectious bronchitis, and acute necrotic proliferulitis.
According to a spokesperson from the USDA, Avian flu could one day be added to that list.
CNN spokesperson said that USDA is continuing to investigate vaccine options that could protect poultry against the persistent threat of (highly pathogenic) avian influenza.
However, vaccination is not the only option.
The USDA stated that implementing a vaccine strategy is difficult because of many factors, including production timelines and dissemination to flocks.
"We are first and foremost pursuing collaboration efforts with poultry farms and companies on education and training and the implementation of comprehensive biosecurity precautions. Biosecurity is the most effective and prudent way we can mitigate the disease's impact today.