Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5 and Avian Influenza A H7 and their subtypes, better known as bird flu, have been reappearing over the past few weeks in Europe, Asia and Africa. Cases of H5N1 have been reported as recently as Nov. 14 in the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Israel.
This follows H7 outbreaks in Mexico from Mar. 2016. The most recent report dated Aug. 31, 2016 details 32 cases of which some are still ongoing. 58,024 birds have died of the influenza during this period and 3,270,528 have been destroyed as a precautionary measure.
Human H7 infection is associated with exposure to poultry and around a third of cases result in death. Person to person infection remains extremely rare, for which reason a pandemic of the diseases in their current form remains unlikely.
H5 is highly contagious among birds but human transmission is only associated with prolonged contact with infected birds, with human to human transmission equally rare. The disease in humans is linked to severe disease and death.
Although H5 and H7 human to human transmissions are rare, flu viruses are known to mutate easily and for this reason health authorities remain on the lookout for possible cases. A vaccine for H5 is available and is being stockpiled by some countries, such as the US, to be used against any human pandemic.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends employing basic prevention strategies for both strands of avian influenza. These include not touching live animals such as birds, especially in areas where transmission is known, washing your hands often and thoroughly cooking poultry before eating.
Since Sep. 2016, only one new case of bird flu has been reported in the Americas; a wild mallard duck in Alaska was confirmed to have the European/American strain of H5N2. The case was considered terminated by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) on Nov. 10 and there have been no links to commercial poultry.