TURKEY NOW READILY AVAILABLE: An avian flu outbreak in the Midwest made fresh turkey scarce, but frozen & fresh turkey is available for Thanksgiving. Photo: Lupin/Wikimedia Commons

The bird flu outbreak in the USA—resulting in millions of chickens and turkeys being destroyed–is not a serious threat to American consumers, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week.

The UMHS Endeavour looks at the bird flu outbreak, results of genetic analysis of the virus and why the public and students at American and Caribbean medical schools should not be alarmed. We will summarize a news release from the CDC that was quoted in a story on MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health.


Genetic Makeup is ‘Different’

The news has been full of stories about chickens and turkeys having to be destroyed. The Wall Street Journal reported last week about a large number of bird flu cases in Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. The current U.S. outbreak started in late 2014 and has become “the worst in years,” MedlinePlus said.

However, federal health officials say there is no need to avoid poultry products because the genetic makeup of the current bird flu strain is “different from other bird flu viruses that have sickened more than 600 people in 15 countries,” CDC epidemiologist Dr. Alicia Fry is quoted as saying in the story.

Other bird flu virus strains have made sickened more than 600 people in 15 different countries. Bird flu, often spread by wild fowl, has been reported in Asia, Africa, the Near East and part of Europe, CDC officials said.

The virus in the current strain, H5N2, was just recently identified.

“But we do know that if we look at their genes, we don’t see any genetic markers that in the past have been associated with transmission to humans,” Dr. Fry said. “So that’s a good sign.”

The CDC is currently collecting samples of the virus and its strains in case a human vaccine needs to be developed in the future.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will not see any human cases, but there is certainly a possibility that we may,” Dr. Fry said.

Just in case, the CDC is collecting samples of the virus and its assorted strains to see which ones might be good candidates for a possible human vaccine should one be needed. This is a first step in making a vaccine, but at this time the agency has no plans to go beyond this preliminary work, she said.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will not see any human cases, but there is certainly a possibility that we may,” Fry said.

U.S. Food Supply Safe, Official Says

MedlinePlus quoted comments from Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“These birds are not going into the human food supply,” Dr. Clifford said.

Dr. Clifford also said the current bird flu strain doesn’t survive well in high temperatures, so the coming summer heat should take care of the problem soon.

CDC officials said to avoid contact with “wild birds and chickens or turkeys that appear sick or have died.”

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individual student attention, maintaining small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. We call this unique approach, “personalized medical education,” and it’s what has led to our unprecedented 96% student retention rate, and outstanding residency placements across the US and Canada. UMHS is challenging everything you thought you knew about Caribbean medical schools.


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