by Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo via Instagram

The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is preparing for a highly contagious avian flu outbreak that was detected in commercial and backyard poultry in 13 states. 

The strain H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza was detected in January by the USDA among tens of millions of wild birds and domestic and commercial flocks. The avian flu initially appeared in North Carolina and has spread since then. 

Cases have been found predominantly in the South, Midwest, and East Coast. According to federal officials, nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys were killed to prevent the virus from spreading. 

Federal officials announced this week outbreaks in bird collections at two zoos but did not disclose further identifying information. 

Accordion to Rob Vernon, a spokesperson Association of Zoos and Aquariums, there are 3,700 birds under the care of the San Diego Zoo and Safari park. In a public statement, Vernon said that a full response will be in effect “at least the next few months, until transmission, subsides.''

CDC believes that the risk to the general public’s health from current H5N1 bird flu viruses is low, however, some people may have job-related or recreational exposures to birds that put them at higher risk of infection. 

There have been no cases of human infection with H5N1 to date in the United States. 

The precursor of the current H5N1 bird flu viruses infecting wild birds and poultry in the U.S. beginning in 2021 first emerged in southern China in 1996 among geese and caused large poultry outbreaks in Hong Kong in 1997, which resulted in 18 human infections. 

According to the CDC, the bird outbreak was controlled, but H5N1 bird flu viruses re-surfaced in 2003 to spread widely in birds throughout Asia, and later in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, causing poultry outbreaks, and sporadic human infections. 

Since 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) external icon, has received reports from 19 countries of more than 860 human infections with H5N1 bird flu viruses, with about 53 percent of those resulting in death. 

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