Government health officials are on alert due to a lethal avian influenza outbreak that’s devastated poultry farms in recent weeks.
There are no signs the strain of avian influenza poses a danger to people yet, but experts are on the lookout for potential mutations of the virus that could make it more of a threat.
Although the risk to humans remains low, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will monitor people who’ve been exposed to domestic and wild species infected with H5N1 — a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that spreads easily among birds.
Since February, the H5N1 virus has been detected in commercial and backyard flocks in at least 17 states, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making it the worst bird flu outbreak since 2015, when nearly 50 million birds were slaughtered or died. The spread of the disease has largely been blamed on the migration of wild birds flying over domestic flocks and transmitting the virus through their droppings.
At this time, no human cases of H5N1 have been detected in the United States, CDC spokesperson Kate Grusich said in a statement to NBC News. “Based on past experience with earlier H5N1 bird flu viruses — and what is known about this group of viruses from existing epidemiologic and genetic sequence data — CDC believes the health risk to the general public is low,” she said.
The worry, experts say, is that a continued spread among birds could give the virus more chances to pick up new mutations and become more of a risk to people.