Bird Flu Has Made it to the Big Apple - Latest Global News

Bird Flu Has Made it to the Big Apple

Avian flu has struck New York City’s birds. In a new study Wednesday, scientists report traces of the highly pathogenic H5N1 in a small number of wild bird populations in New York. While this discovery may not be directly related to the ongoing H5N1 outbreaks in U.S. dairy cattle, it is another sign that these viruses are moving further into humanity’s path.

Research, published Wednesday in the Journal of Virology was the result of a novel collaboration between several groups: the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Wild Bird Fund and Biobus, a program that recruits high school and college students to participate in scientific research.

“To my knowledge, this is the first large-scale U.S. study of avian influenza in an urban area and the first with active community participation,” said study author Christine Marizzi, director of community science at the Biobus Harlem site, in a statement opinion from the American Society for Microbiology, publisher of the study. Marizzi is also a principal investigator for the New York City Virus Hunters (NYCVH) program.

Many of the bird droppings samples analyzed by the researchers were collected by local high school students wearing protective gear. Additional samples were provided by local animal rehabilitation centers. The students also helped the NYCVH test these samples for viruses.

In total, the researchers examined almost 2,000 stool samples collected from New York’s parks and green spaces between January 2022 and November 2023. They found H5N1 in six birds from four different species: the Canada goose, the peregrine falcon, the domestic chicken and the red-tailed hawk. Genetic analysis also revealed that there were at least two slightly different H5N1 strains in these samples. Both strains belong to the broader 2.3.4.4.b group of H5N1 and appear to be a mix of local North American and Eurasian lineages of the virus.

To date, no outbreaks of H5N1 have been reported on any dairy farm within New York’s borders (the state has approximately 3,500 farms), although it was the only human case linked to these outbreaks so far happened in Texas. Therefore, the team’s findings do not appear to be related to the current cow situation, nor do they necessarily indicate an imminent danger to New York residents, the authors note.

“Since we found H5N1 in urban birds, it is important to note that this does not mean the start of a human flu pandemic. We have known that H5N1 has been occurring in New York City for approximately two years and there have been no reported human cases,” Marizzi said.

But the arrival of H5N1 in New York is still concerning. The more these viruses spread among birds near us, the more likely it is that some of them will spread to humans or other mammals. With a bit of bad luck, one of these strains could then acquire the right combination of mutations that would turn it into a fast-spreading, deadly pandemic.

Even if recent outbreaks in cattle are successfully controlled, H5N1 and other highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses remain an ongoing problem that scientists like Marizzi must keep a watchful eye on. And New Yorkers should still be cautious about potentially exposing themselves to H5N1 and other animal-borne germs.

“It is wise to remain vigilant and stay away from wildlife. This includes preventing your pets from coming into close contact with wildlife,” Marizzi said.

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