Scientists are scrambling to assess the long-term threat of avian influenza as three deadly strains of the virus have spread across the U.S. in the past year, most recently causing Minnesota officials to declare a state of emergency.
|Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton|
With as many as 2.6 million turkeys--and rising--reported to be infected with the virus, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton declared the emergency last Thursday. Minnesota is the top turkey producing state in the U.S.
The USDA says a trio of highly pathogenic avian flu viruses have infected poultry and wild birds across the country, forcing the slaughter of millions of turkeys and chickens by producers in an attempt to keep the viruses from spreading.
According to Department of Agriculture officials, the strains are the H5N2, H5N8 and the H5N1, which is a relatively new strain that has been found in only a handful of cases. Though the agency said the virus typically doesn't affect humans, there is a remote possibility it could.
Reuters says that's why the USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting detailed analyses, including sequencing the viruses' genomes, to see if the viruses might mutate and become human viruses.
"This is something we need to avoid: it is something that could happen and which we have to look for," Jurgen Richt, an expert in avian influenza at Kansas State University, told the news agency.
Since the spread of the virus began last year, Mexico, Canada and the European Union have banned or restricted poultry imports from Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, California, Washington and Oregon. Both China and South Korea currently have total bans on U.S. poultry. The virus also has been found in Kansas.
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