Health Comm Headlines: Bird Flu

A doodle is reading a newspaper with the headline Outbreak of Bird Flu

You won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve been keeping a close eye on the news about the outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza — better known as bird flu — among dairy cows in the United States. First reported at the end of March, this outbreak has affected more than 30 cattle herds and led to 1 (very mild) human case of bird flu. So this week, we’ve rounded up a few stories to help us all stay in the loop. Read on, dear readers!

  • Could Bird Flu Cause a Human Pandemic? (Vox)
    We really like the framing of this piece, which lays out what’s worrying scientists about the outbreak and what’s not. It drills down into the big questions — and at this point, we still have a lot of them. The author, a former CDC disease detective, closes the piece with these encouraging words: “At the moment, there are more ‘coulds’ than ‘ares’ with H5N1: Although the virus is showing that it could adapt further to spread among humans, so far it hasn’t; and while it’s reasonable to conduct studies to ensure pasteurization works against this particular strain of H5N1, there’s no reason to think it won’t.”
  • Pasteurization Inactivates H5N1 Bird Flu in Milk, New FDA and Academic Studies Confirm (STAT)
    Speaking of studies to ensure pasteurization works against H5N1, findings from them are rolling in in real time — and the news is positive. This piece, out just today, notes that additional testing on pasteurized dairy products from 38 states showed zero evidence of live virus. These studies “add weight to the FDA’s conclusion that pasteurized milk products are safe for consumption despite a widespread outbreak of cows infected with H5N1.” We’ll take it!
  • Spikes of Flu Virus in Wastewater Raise Questions About Spread of Bird Flu (CNN)
    Not too long ago, we wrote about wastewater surveillance in the context of COVID. So this piece — about spikes of influenza A viruses in wastewater across 18 states and what that might mean for the spread of bird flu in dairy cattle — caught our eye. The article details a new study conducted by a team of scientists who say wastewater surveillance could provide early warnings of bird flu outbreaks in farm animals. Interesting stuff.
  • Opinion: This May Be Our Last Chance to Halt Bird Flu in Humans, and We Are Blowing It (New York Times)
    In this opinion piece, Zeynep Tufekci, a sociology and public affairs professor at Princeton University, argues that we’re falling short in terms of preventing bird flu from spreading in humans. She calls out issues with both animal farming practices and public health approaches — and asserts that we’re ignoring valuable communication lessons from the COVID pandemic. “One troubling legacy of the coronavirus pandemic is that there was too much attention on telling the public how to feel — to panic or not panic — rather than sharing facts and inspiring confidence through transparency and competence. And four years later we have an added layer of polarization and distrust to work around.”

Copy/paste to share on social (and tag us!): In this edition of #HealthComm Headlines, CommunicateHealth is rounding up some helpful reading material on the #BirdFlu outbreak in U.S. dairy cattle. Take a look: #PublicHealth #H5N1


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