WHO concerned over Bird Flu spread in dairy cows, potential human risk

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about bird flu transmission to other animals and humans, following the disease's recent uptick in dairy cows.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu and the H5N1 virus, is a disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses primarily spread among wild aquatic birds globally and can also infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. 

To learn more about bird flu and its symptoms, keep reading. 

Is bird flu something to worry about?

According to Business Today, WHO Chief Scientist Jeremy Farrar labeled the situation as "an enormous concern" during a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday. 

Back in 2020, when the current bird flu outbreak originated, ducks and chickens were mostly affected by the disease. Recently, cows and goats have been contracting the disease.

On April 9, the WHO reported a Texas man contracting the bird flu in what has been documented as the first human infection acquired from contact with an infected mammal.

According to WHO, the patient developed conjunctivitis, or pink eye, while they were working at a commercial dairy cattle farm. Conjunctivitis was the only symptom that the patient felt. They were instructed to take antiviral medication and isolate. At the time of the reporting, the patient was recovering.

As of now, health officials have labeled the H5N1 bird flu as a "global zoonotic animal pandemic," according to Business Today. What has the WHO deeply concerned is the potential for the virus to evolve and gain the ability for human-to-human transmission. As of now, human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 bird flu has not happened yet.

Can humans get sick from bird flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a human bird flu infection is a rare occurrence. Typically, these viruses do not infect people.

Health officials say a person can get infected with bird flu if enough infection gets into their eyes, nose, mouth, or if it is inhaled.

How does bird flu spread to humans?

Health officials say the bird flu can spread to a person who is exposed to saliva, mucous or feces from infected birds.

Those who are in close contact with infected birds, who also do not use proper respiratory or eye protection, are at greater risk of being infected.

What are the first signs of bird flu?

According to the CDC, the signs of bird flu in humans can range from no symptoms to mild illnesses, and in severe cases, illnesses like pneumonia that require hospitalization. The CDC is reporting that some severe cases of bird flu infection have resulted in death.

Mild symptoms of bird flu

  • Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye
  • Mild flu-like upper respiratory symptoms

Severe symptoms of bird flu

  • Fever (temperature of 100ºF or greater)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Less common symptoms of bird flu

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

The CDC says a fever may not always be present when a patient contracts bird flu.

What kind of birds carry bird flu?

According to the CDC, bird flu viruses "have been isolated from more than 100 different species of wild birds around the world."

Bird flu viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds like ducks, geese, swans, seagulls, storks, plovers and sandpipers. The CDC says dabbling ducks, like mallard ducks, American black ducks and northern pintails, are considered hosts for bird flu. Officials say most of these host species can contract the virus, but they may not get sick.

However, bird flu is highly contagious among birds, and some viruses can kill domesticated species of birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys.

How do birds get bird flu?

Bird flu can be shed from saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Birds that become infected usually have direct contact with the virus, though they can also be infected after making contact with contaminated surfaces.


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