Avian Flu: What’s It All About?
Here’s a scary name from the past that’s back in town again.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Also known as bird flu, it’s back with a vengeance. As of June, 2015, some 46.8 million birds have been affected on 228 premises in 21 states. The outbreak is called “unprecedented” and the numbers are growing.
But don’t let the name and numbers scare you. If you’re not a chicken, goose, turkey, wild bird, or duck, you have little to worry about—unless raising them is your life’s work or you keep birds where you live.
If that’s the case, I’m sure you’re already taking all necessary precautions.
Are humans at risk?
It’s the words highly pathogenic that set off our alarm bells. But that condition, meaning “highly capable of causing disease” applies 99.9% to birds and 0.01% to people who handle them up close.
The Centers for Disease Control says the likelihood of human infection is low, and the rare reported cases have followed direct or close contact with infected poultry.
That said, bird flu is a cunning and capable virus, able to mutate from a non-threatening form to the highly-pathogenic form that’s devastating our poultry and related industries today. In a previous outbreak in China, there was grave concern that the virus could mutate into one that directly attacked humans and could transmit person-to-person like other viruses.
But be assured that there are extensive bird flu monitoring systems in place and safeguards at the ready. In Pennsylvania alone, some 250,000 bird samples are inspected each year.
What should you do?
The most likely sources of bird flu-infected poultry are factory-raised birds. I’ve already warned you of them in the past—they’re also a source of hormone- and antibiotic-polluted birds. Though our major supermarket chains have rigorous inspection safeguards, they’re still more liable to miss a case than the local producers you know and trust. So go to those local producers for your eggs and meat. And everything else you eat, for that matter.
Recipes for total peace of mind
The CDC puts it plainly: “People don’t catch the virus from eating fully cooked chicken or eggs.” With the odds of ever encountering bird flu-infected food at zero, you can still add your own final protective layer by simply replacing eggs and poultry in your diet.
An alternative to eggs depends on what they’re used for in the original recipe: leavening, binding, or moisture.
The internet is loaded with recipes, with easy-to-find ingredients. The lists I’ve put together here should assure you that there’s no mystery to replacing eggs and no shortage of ways to do it. A vegan cookbook is also a great source of egg-free recipes.
- Flax seed
- Cider vinegar
- Coconut milk
- Carbonated water
- Peanut or other nut butter
- Any fruit or vegetable puree
- Sour cream or crème fraîche
You could also avoid or just steer clear of chicken altogether, replacing it with beef, fish, lamb, or pork instead of a bird—hormone-and antibiotic-free, of course. There’s also a number of interesting vegetable proteins on the market, such as hemp or pea protein, and a whole food alternative protein can come in the form of nuts, beans, or quinoa.
I should repeat that eliminating or reducing all bird flu-potential foods is not considered a necessary step at this point. Buying fresh from trusted local sources is your best protection.
And that, of course, goes for every food you put on your table, not just poultry and eggs.
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: July 8, 2015