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Growing Concerns Among Officials As Bird Flu Outbreak Grows

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Since its first discovery in 1996, H5N1 has caused issues sporadically throughout the farming industry. This summer, however, it is spreading at rates higher than average, infecting dairy cows and humans in at least 12 states. While those individuals have since recovered, and the risk to humans is relatively low, government officials are taking further steps to determine whether people should be concerned about a significant outbreak.

H5N1, also known as bird flu, is a unique disease because it quickly evolves to infiltrate the cells of a growing list of species other than birds. So far, H5N1 has killed millions of birds, both farmed and wild. Over two dozen mammal species, including cats, house mice and cows, are now vulnerable to transmission.

Because this disease is rapidly spreading and evolving, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization has determined it to be a "global zoonotic animal pandemic." While humans are not at the highest risk of infection, this could quickly change.

The Evolutionary Process of H5N1

Like influenza mutates each season to survive, H5N1 also evolves to survive in a changing environment. This process allows it to continue to spread and grow. If H5N1 makes these changes at the right place at the right time, and humans are in that environment as it occurs, this current animal pandemic may become a bigger problem for people.


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