Should I be worried about bird flu?

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza, also known as bird flu has been spreading across Canada and the U.S., raising concerns among experts due to its potential impact on both wildlife and the poultry industry. While millions of birds have been affected, the direct risk to humans remains low at present.

So, should you be worried about that changing?

In the Unites States, between January 13, 2022 and February 23, 2024, bird flu has been detected in 48 states affecting over 82 million birds. There were also about 48,000 wild birds that have been sick or killed by the virus in 39 states, according to the Government of Ontario.

In Canada, while nearly 40,000 wild birds have been affected, the spread among poultry flocks has been more limited.

The reason bird flu has been making headlines recently is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that certain samples of cow’s milk had tested positive for remnants of the virus.

This new development poses “no risk to humans”, according to Matt Herrick, a spokesperson for the International Dairy Foods Association. The time and temperature regulations for pasteurization ensure that the commercial milk supply is safe.

What is more concerning is the jump between birds and mammals — specifically to a species that has significant contact with humans. There are now about 33 herds of cattle in the U.S. across several states where the virus has been found. The agricultural authorities are now requiring cattle moving between states to be tested for the virus before they can be transferred.

There are currently no reports of infection among Canadian cattle nor are there significant reports of human infections.

To date, only two people in the U.S. have been infected with bird flu: a Texas dairy worker who was in close contact with an infected cow recently developed a mild eye infection and has recovered. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program caught it while killing infected birds at a Colorado poultry farm. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered.

In Canada, biosecurity practices have improved following bird flu outbreaks in 2004, 2009, and 2014. For now, both Canadian and U.S. public health authorities are actively monitoring the situation.

Poultry, eggs, beef and pasteurized dairy, that are properly prepared pose no risk to people and unless you are in close contact with birds, the risk to ordinary Canadians for the time being is very low.

Stay informed through reliable sources and follow any guidelines issued by health authorities.