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Israel fears that its recent bird flu outbreak could cause a new global pandemic worse than COVID-19. Since the onset of the virus on December 19, over 5,000 migratory cranes that fly over Israel during their yearly migration from Europe to East Asia and Africa have died from H5N1 — avian influenza. The number of crane deaths this year has been the highest in Israeli history, forcing farmers to also slaughter about half a million chickens in an attempt to control the spread of the virus.
It is believed that “the cranes were infected by smaller birds [who] had contact with farms suffering from outbreaks,” according to USA Today. There have also been sightings of egret and pelican carcasses, rendering this outbreak “an extraordinary event with global ramifications.” For fear of this bird flu becoming the new global pandemic Israel, along with the rest of the world, is up in arms about a solution to this issue.
The main concern is that, although very difficult to transmit to humans, if people were to contract the virus, it could be deadly. In 2003, more than half of the 863 cases of H5N1 infections in humans were fatal. Considering the fact that the world is still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the onset of H5N1 in humans could prove to be more problematic. “It is the ability of these viruses to mutate into new strains that [pose] such a threat, as we have seen with the coronavirus…there could be a mutation that also infects people and turns into a mass disaster,” said Yossi Leshem, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun.
With new COVID cases on the rise and mutated variants of the virus being resistant to many vaccines, it would be ideal for individuals to take all precautionary measures to protect themselves from being infected with avian flu. One major precaution mentioned is “Israelis have been warned not to approach any wild bird that looks sick, and not to touch any bird droppings,” according to the Daily Beast. Additionally, there are no reports that anyone has contracted the H5N1 virus, but any Israeli who has been in contact with wild birds are taking an antiviral called Tamiflu, which is an added approach to preventing the spread of the disease to humans.
“The H5N1 outbreak has wrought the most serious damage to wildlife in the history of the country,” Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said in a tweet on Sunday. For obvious reasons, this particular bird flu has incited fear in not only Israel but the entire world, as there have already been several fatalities caused by COVID-19, the worst global pandemic seen in history. The last occurrence this world needs is to suffer the onset of H5N1 infection in humans at the same time individuals are already fighting to stay alive and healthy.
Thankfully, along with antiviral medications, mass slaughtering of possibly infected birds, and no reports of infected individuals, it appears the Israeli authorities have been successful in containing the infection. Furthermore, Yaron Michaeli, spokesman for the Hula Lake Park, states “the death toll among cranes appears to have stabilized in recent days.” Prayerfully, this occurrence can be of the past, and focus can be placed on the cleanup of the remaining crane carcasses and rebuilding healthy wildlife.
Written by Hyleia Kidd
The Daily Beast: Massive New Bird Flu Outbreak Could Be 2022’s Deadly Pandemic; by Noga Tarnopolsky
USA Today: Thousands of cranes killed by bird flu, half a million chickens slaughtered in Israel
The Washington Post: Bird flu outbreak in Israel kills more than 5,200 cranes, with mass culling of poultry underway; by Miriam Berger
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Tony Armstrong-Sly’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of International Livestock Research Institute’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License