The highly contagious Bird Flu virus was detected in ducks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, pictured here this week
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The highly contagious Bird Flu virus has been detected in ducks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, the National Park Service has announced.

It comes as nearly 38 million domestic birds have died in farms due to a recent outbreak of the virus, also known as the avian flu, forcing poultry farmers in 36 US states to kill their flocks and close operations. 

Officials revealed Wednesday they came to the realization that Washington now had its first confirmed cases of the contagious virus after discovering a ‘die-off’ of more than a dozen mallard ducklings by the pool, near the National Mall, last month. 

A die-off refers to a group of animals that have died over a short period of time. 

Upon performing necropsies on the animals, park agents said, two were found to have had the virus – known scientifically as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) – which if transmitted to humans, has a fatality rate of 50 percent.

It was not immediately clear what killed the other ducklings, officials said Wednesday, adding that the virus, while incredibly contagious, is rarely transmitted to humans. 

There is only one documented human case of HPAI in the US. 

The highly contagious Bird Flu virus was detected in ducks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, pictured here this week

The highly contagious Bird Flu virus was detected in ducks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC, pictured here this week

The virus was detected in two dead ducklings found by the pool last month. The animals were found in a group of more than a dozen dead Mallard ducks. It was not immediately clear what killed the other ducklings, officials said Wednesday

The virus was detected in two dead ducklings found by the pool last month. The animals were found in a group of more than a dozen dead Mallard ducks. It was not immediately clear what killed the other ducklings, officials said Wednesday

Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst urged the public to keep calm after  announcing the findings Wednesday morning, but warned DC residents to avoid touching live or dead birds. 

Officials also warned citizens to avoid stepping bird droppings, as they can help the virus be easily spread through a person’s shoes. 

‘We’re not looking at another covid-type situation,’ Litterst said. ‘But because humans can unwittingly facilitate the transfer between groups of birds, we just want to get the word out there.’

There has only been one documented human case of the currently circulating HPAI in the US, with the virus being much more transmissible among other animals, particularly other birds.

Moreover, officials Wednesday said the same safety measures should be taken to citizens’ household pets to prevent a potential spread.

Mallards are less likely than many other waterfowl species to show signs of disease and can be infected without appearing sick, officials also warned

Mallards are less likely than many other waterfowl species to show signs of disease and can be infected without appearing sick, officials also warned

A duck is pictured in the memorial pool earlier this week. Officials have warned residents to avoid touching live or dead birds

A duck is pictured in the memorial pool earlier this week. Officials have warned residents to avoid touching live or dead birds

The flu is spread predominantly through respiratory and fecal secretions, contact with contaminated environments, as well as direct physical interactions, particularly among waterfowl like ducks and geese. 

The virus is highly contagious among other wild birds as well, and can prove deadly for bald eagles and vultures, the park service said.

Elsewhere in the area, in nearby Maryland, 80 black vultures infected with the virus were found dead along the Susquehanna River, officials have said. 

Vultures are usually infected due to the fact that they scavenge dead birds that had been stricken with the virus.

The 80 animals were among nearly 1,000 bird flu cases in wild birds in the Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia area this year, including at least 54 bald eagles.

The virus has also been affecting domestic birds as well, including 1.7 million in Maryland, 4 million in Pennsylvania and 1.4 million in Delaware, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Only 90 have been affected in Virginia, according to officials.

There has only been one documented human case of the currently circulating HPAI in the US, with the virus being much more transmissible among other animals, particularly other birds

There has only been one documented human case of the currently circulating HPAI in the US, with the virus being much more transmissible among other animals, particularly other birds

The flu is spread predominantly through respiratory and fecal secretions, contact with contaminated environments, as well as direct physical interactions, particularly among waterfowl like ducks and geese

The flu is spread predominantly through respiratory and fecal secretions, contact with contaminated environments, as well as direct physical interactions, particularly among waterfowl like ducks and geese

It comes as nationwide outbreaks of the virus has seen roughly 39 million birds in 36 states stricken so far this year, due to an unprecedented spread among wild birds, making it particularly hard to contain. 

Wild birds help transport the virus around the country, and the rest of the world as well.

Since October, more than 77 million birds across the globe have been killed to curb the spread of the virus, which almost always causes severe disease or death in chickens. 

Another 400,000 non-poultry birds, such as wild birds, have also died – twice the number reported during the last major bird flu outbreaks seen in 2016 and 2017. 

Bird flu is unique in that it can be transmitted directly from birds to humans.

Humans can catch bird flu directly through close contact with live infected birds and those who work with infected chickens are most at risk. 

Since October, more than 77 million birds have been killed to curb a recent spread of the virus, which almost always causes severe disease or death in chickens

Since October, more than 77 million birds have been killed to curb a recent spread of the virus, which almost always causes severe disease or death in chickens

Another 400,000 non-poultry birds, such as wild birds, have also died - twice the number reported during the last major bird flu outbreaks seen in 2016 and 2017

Another 400,000 non-poultry birds, such as wild birds, have also died – twice the number reported during the last major bird flu outbreaks seen in 2016 and 2017

But as summer looms on the horizon, United States Department of Agriculture data suggests the threat of the spread will fade as we welcome in warmer weather. 

Last month, losses incurred by farmers for the month were the smallest of the year. 

Being a viral disease that spreads best in cold conditions, bird flu historically dissipates with the arrival of warm weather.

Egg-laying hens in the US accounted for three of every four birds culled by farmers due to infection from HPAI since the start of the year. 

The losses have spurred egg prices at the wholesale level to soar to $3 for a dozen Large eggs in the week before Easter, double the price seen a year ago.  

The nationwide wholesale average price was $2.75 as of this week.

A USDA tally said 780,000 birds in commercial flocks died of HPAI or were culled so far in May, compared to 1.49 million birds in February, 20.96 million in March and 14.73 million in April. 

The last detection of bird flu was during the epidemic seen in the US in 2014 and 2015 – one of the worst animal disease outbreaks in American history. It caused some 43 million laying hens and pullets died along with 7.4 million turkeys. 

‘The numbers are just staggering in terms of the poultry,’ Charlie Broaddus, the state veterinarian in Virginia, said of the crisis last month.

Citizens are still welcome to the pool at the Lincoln Memorial, at their own caution, according to officials

Citizens are still welcome to the pool at the Lincoln Memorial, at their own caution, according to officials

At the time, he said one of the biggest factors fueling the spread is the fact that wild animals, such as ducks and geese, that are infected with the virus commonly do not show symptoms.

‘They’re carriers,’ the doctor said, ‘but the genetic sequence has the potential to make domestic birds much, much sicker.’

He also cited how the farms that produce eggs that ‘end up in the supermarket’ tend to be massively-scaled operations, leaving high potential for rapid sprea. 

Oftentimes, he said, domestic chickens become infected when a farmer or worker ‘accidentally tracks through goose droppings near a pond’ and brings it into the facility.

He warned: ‘It takes just one to be infected before they spread it to others.’

Citizens are still welcome to the pool at the Lincoln Memorial, at their own caution. 

Officials warned: ‘Wash your hands, change clothes, and clean your shoes after visiting areas where wild birds frequent.’ 

A virus that kills up to 50% of humans… but transmission is rare: Everything you need to know about bird flu 

What is bird flu?

Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among bird species but can, on rare occasions, jump to human beings.

It is an infectious disease of birds caused by a variant of the standard influenza A virus. 

Bird flu is unique in that it can be transmitted directly from birds to humans. 

There are 15 different strains of the virus. It is the H5N1 strain which is infecting humans and causing deaths. 

Humans can catch bird flu directly through close contact with live infected birds and those who work with infected chickens are most at risk. 

Like human influenza, there are many strains of bird flu:

The current outbreak in birds in the US is H5N1. 

Where has it been spotted in the US?

To date, H5N1 viruses have been found in U.S. commercial and backyard birds in 29 states and in wild birds in 36 states. There is only one documented human case of HPAI in the US.

How deadly is the virus?

Fatality rates for bird flu in humans have been estimated to be as high as 50 per cent. 

But because transmission to humans is so rare, around 500 bird flu deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997. 

Is it transmissible from birds to humans?

Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and usually do not spread on human-to-human.

Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird or the body of one. 

This can include:

  • touching infected birds
  • touching droppings or bedding
  • killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: ‘Transfer of avian flu to people is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the individual concerned. 

‘It is a risk for the handlers who are charged with the disposal of carcasses after an outbreak but the virus does not spread generally and poses little threat. 

‘It does not behave like the seasonal flu we are used to.

‘Despite the current heightened concern around viruses there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no need for public alarm.’

Recent outbreak

Roughly 38 million birds in domestic flocks have died in Bird Flue outbreaks since early February.

A USDA tally said 780,000 birds in commercial flocks died of HPAI or were culled so far in May, compared to 1.49 million birds in February, 20.96 million in March and 14.73 million in April.

But as summer looms on the horizon, United States Department of Agriculture data suggests the threat of the spread will fade as we welcome in warmer weather. 

The last detection of HPAI was during the 2014-15 epidemic, one of the worst animal disease outbreaks in US history. It caused some 43 million laying hens and pullets died along with 7.4 million turkeys. 

What are the symptoms? 

Symptoms of bird flue usually take three to five days to appear with the most common being:  

  • a very high temperature 
  • or feeling hot or shivery 
  • aching muscles 
  • headache 
  • a cough or shortness of breath 

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