Sunday, November 27, 2016

South Korea on Alert with Potential Outbreak of Avian Flu

A highly pathogenic avian influenza virus appears to be spreading throughout Gyeonggi Province, South Korea’s largest poultry production base and most populated province, putting authorities on alert.  This virus appears to have surfaced in mid-November amongst a local poultry production farm and has been spread to over three other poultry farms in a period of weeks.  This has led to the controlled slaughter of nearly 100,000 chickens and ducks that were suspected to be either infected or exposed to the highly virulent virus.  The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that more cases are being examined as wild bird infections were reported around the western coastal areas.  Authorities see migratory birds as the source of the H5N6 virus outbreak in this case, as there have been no reports of infections through the movement of people or livestock.  This is the first time that South Korea has reported an outbreak of the H5N6-strain bird flu, making this virus an emerging virus.  While in neighboring China, there have been 16 cases of human infections of H5N6 since 2014. Ten of those infected died. 

This situation is very worrisome for numerous reasons especially the rate and method at which the virus appears to be spreading, the potential for cross infectivity, and the virulence rate of the virus.  It is known that influenza was primarily an avian-based virus many years ago, however influenza now seems to be amongst one of the most infectious human viruses, so this indicates its ability to cross into the human species with ease especially in areas such as this were the population density and conditions promote its spread.  If and potentially when H5N6 begins to infect humans in South Korea, its past virulence rates are rather alarming seeing as it had killed more than half of those it infected, posing a major threat to the local and potentially global populations.

-Ethan Wentworth

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