Avian influenza continues to spread in New Jersey, across the nation, and around the world, threatening poultry farms, wild birds, and possibly human beings.

Bird flu has killed more than 58 million chickens and turkeys in the U. S. and it has already mutated, killing minks in multiple locations and sea lions in South America, raising fears it could soon pose a threat to people.

According to Ricardo Rajsbaum, the director of the Center for Virus-Host-Innate Immuity at the Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases, bird flu does not usually cause any problems in humans but concern has been rising as a wave of avian influenza has been spreading for the past 13 months.

Workers in China where bird flu has been reported
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No need to panic

“Do not panic, influenza has been around for a long time and there is always a risk that influenza can mutate and cause pandemics,” he said.

He said to this point avian influenza has not yet become easily transmitted to people, but because the virus naturally mutates as it spreads, there is a threat.

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“Usually the cases that happen in humans that (are) caused by H5N1, avian influenza viruses can be bad, because we do not have immunity against these viruses.”

Furtseff
Furtseff
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It could cause serious health issues

He said that means if this wave of avian influenza undergoes a mutation and jumps to people “it will most likely not be like a regular flu, it can be worse than a regular flu.”

Rajsbaum said avian influenza is not likely to infect humans but many birds are carrying the virus so people should avoid any direct contact with them.

“The best way to protect really is to avoid direct contact with birds, so staying far away, it should be OK.”

He said anyone working directly with chickens or other poultry should wear gloves, masks and protective clothing.

He pointed out someone would likely need a high dose of the virus in its current form to become infected.

He said the bottom line is having a bird feeder in your backyard is okay but everyone needs to be aware there is an outbreak of highly pathogenic influenza in birds and people should not “touch any secretions from birds, and stay away if you can.”

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