Government health officials announced yesterday that farm workers exposed to an unusual strain of avian flu will be offered antiviral treatments as a preventative measure in case the bird flu spreads to humans.
Bird flu, known in medical parlance as H5N2 influenza, has only infected turkeys and chickens in Midwestern poultry farms since the recent outbreak started, though there have been no reports of the virus spreading to humans. However, flu viruses tend to be mutable, which means there is a possibility that anyone in direct contact with infected poultry could also get sick. The severity of a possible human infection has yet to be determined, but health officials and experts believe there isn’t much of a chance that this bird flu strain can be passed from person to person, even if people do fall sick.
Quotes from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) medical officer Dr. Alicia Fry suggest that the agency has already isolated a pure H5N2 strain, in case a human vaccine would be required. She was also quoted by Reuters as saying that the CDC is “cautiously optimistic” that the strain will not affect humans.
Meanwhile, the CDC is also working overtime to resolve legal issues regarding the release of a stockpile of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug made by Roche. About 300 people in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have been advised to take the drug as a precaution in case they may be infected with bird flu, but only half of the people have taken the drug as advised. In particular, over 100 farm workers from South Dakota have refused medical treatment, according to a report from Reuters. These people, the report added, do not feel they are at a high risk of being infected, or would only want to take the drug if actually infected.