What you need to know about the bird flu epidemic in the United States

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has left the United States reeling as it tries to deal with the deadliest bird flu epidemic in history. William Brangham of the PBS NewsHour joined Nicole Ellis to explain the significance of this bird flu, the severity of the outbreak and how it will affect people across the country.

Watch the full conversation in the video player above.

What is bird flu?

Birds carry the flu in their stomachs all the time, Brangham said, and it usually doesn’t cause any problems for them or for us. But, “Once in a while, one of these viruses” — like H5N1 — “gets super contagious among birds and becomes deadlier to birds,” Brangham said. This specific strain has been circulating among birds for several years, but only became lethal in the United States for a year and a half. It is spreading rapidly not only among chickens, but also among bird populations that are not usually infected with H5N1, such as hawks, hawks, eagles and owls, Brangham said.

WATCH: A highly contagious strain of bird flu plagues farmers across the United States

Should we be worried about human transmission?

Brangham said bird flus very rarely spread to humans, and epidemiologists told him there was no immediate threat to the general population. But the outbreak is of deep concern to the scientific community and something they are watching closely, Brangham said.

The rare cases where humans have been infected with this strain of avian influenza are almost always cases where someone has had direct contact with infected birds or handled their droppings or feces. In these cases, the death rate from bird flu in humans is high — about half of those infected, Brangham said. (We also see it in history. The 1918 flu, a bird flu that became contagious among humans, killed an estimated 500 million people worldwide).

MORE: Why another flu pandemic is probably only a matter of when

What’s encouraging for epidemiologists right now is that people who got sick with bird flu ‘didn’t transmit the virus to other humans’, an indicator that the virus didn’t evolve. to spread among humans.

What about eating chicken or eggs?

Bird flu sent egg prices skyrocketing and affected supply chains in the United States and around the world.

While it’s a pain at the grocery store, there’s no reason to worry about getting bird flu from the food you bring home.

“All the evidence that’s out there right now is that properly cooking your chicken, eggs, turkey, or any other poultry product that you eat…to the proper temperature, you’re not going to get bird flu,” Brangham said, adding that farmers also effectively eliminate their crops so that the virus does not enter the flu supply.

WATCH: What’s causing the price of eggs to skyrocket nationwide?

“If you’re worried, just adopt smart food safety practices: cook your eggs, cook your chicken, cook your turkey, really wash the boards you use with them, wash your hands,” a he declared. “Just smart, basic cooking practices will prevent something like this from happening.”

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