King County doctor: Confronting bird flu with lessons learned from COVID-19

Apr 4, 2024, 5:27 PM | Updated: Apr 5, 2024, 7:49 am

Photo: Turkeys stand in a barn on turkey farm near Manson, Iowa on Aug. 10, 2015....

Turkeys stand in a barn on turkey farm near Manson, Iowa on Aug. 10, 2015. (File photo: Charlie Neibergall, AP)

(File photo: Charlie Neibergall, AP)

The spread of bird flu—around the globe and among different species—is raising the risk that humans can become infected, according to the head of the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH).

“It is spreading,” acknowledged King County Public Health Officer Doctor Jeff Duchin. “It’s spreading globally, it’s spreading in the United States as well. I think we’ll find more and more animals, mammals in particular, will be infected as the virus moves from one population to the next.”

Just this week, a Texas man became the second known person in the U.S. to contract bird flu, more formally known as avian influenza H5N1.

More on the virus: Deadly bird flu found in Puget Sound harbor seal population

Doctor says risk of bird flu for public ‘remains low’

But Duchin insisted, “There’s no new concern here for the general public. The risk remains low.”

People most likely to contract avian flu, including the Texas case, are those who are in close contact with infected animals.

That’s unlikely to happen in Washington state right now. Though we have seen past outbreaks of avian flu in wild birds and backyard domestic flocks, the Washington State Agriculture Department said there have been no new, confirmed cases in 2024.

Although the avian flu has been detected in a variety of animals, including bears, seals, foxes, dogs and cats, “Right now (the virus) it doesn’t bind to the human airway the same way it’s binding to the tissues of these animal species, and that’s very good for us,” according to Duchin.

But on the social media platform “X” this week, Dr. Duchin posted: “Although the risk to humans has not fundamentally changed at this time, we might take this opportunity to review lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and improve our preparedness in public health, healthcare systems and communities.”

Local birds affected: Avian flu outbreak kills 700 waterfowl around Skagit Bay

That’s because viruses can mutate.

Future of the virus

“Being prepared doesn’t mean just having plans on the shelf,” he told KIRO Newsradio. “It means putting resources in place to allow those plans to actually be implemented, to make sure that we have the capacity in our public health and health care delivery systems and in our communities so that we can weather another pandemic because one will emerge whether it’s from avian influenza or another coronavirus or a currently unrecognized virus.”

We know it will happen, again,” he continued.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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King County doctor: Confronting bird flu with lessons learned from COVID-19