As Americans and Canadians follow the threats posed by emerging infectious diseases they are accustomed to hearing news from distant countries such as Saudi Arabia or Liberia. While the threat posed by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) may move its focus from Indonesia to Egypt, events seem far from our borders. Yet the U.S. is now in the midst of a grave outbreak of HPAI, which is devastating flocks in the Midwest. While this is primarily an avian disease, there is always the risk that it may jump to humans. Even if it remains confined to poultry, the long-term economic effects are serious. The virus is unlikely to disappear or be eradicated at any time in the near future. As always, Maryn McKenna is one of the best observers of issues related to infectious disease. I highly recommend her recent article on this topic here. It’s important to note that there is no evidence that the virus is transmitting from birds to humans at the current time, and that the CDC is preparing a vaccine, just in case. As others have noted, the larger issue is the sheer number of HPAI strains circulating globally, which is very different from even a decade ago.
Update: one of the students in my “Introduction to International Studies” class recommended this article in Time. You can also see my most recent article on conspiracy theories and the 2009 influenza pandemic for free.
Shawn Smallman, Portland State University