Here's The One Human Concern From Tennessee's Bird Flu Outbreak

Mar 6, 2017

Veterinarians in Tennessee are still trying to pinpoint the source of a bird flu outbreak — a process that could take weeks. The highly pathogenic avian influenza was found at a chicken plant in Lincoln County near the Alabama border. There is little risk to humans.

"This is a virus of birds, not humans, so we don't recognize a lot of risks," epidemiologist John Dunn said at a press briefing on Monday.

The only real concern is for the state agriculture officials working in the quarantine area, and it's not so much that they catch something.

"We want to monitor them for flu-like symptoms so we don't want to have the human flu illness, which is a different virus, potentially mix with this avian influenza virus," Tennessee state veterinarian Charles Hatcher said.

If that happens, the fear is that the mixing could mutate the flu virus and make it more difficult to contain.

Nearly 74,000 chickens have been destroyed in eight houses, but officials say no infected birds entered the food chain. They also say the first round of testing at facilities within 10 miles has come back negative.

More: Tennessee announces avian flu outbreak on Sunday

To get the all-clear, the testing must come back negative for two weeks. And according to Hatcher, the clock resets if there is any more positive testing. The containment zone could also shift, but Hatcher says it appears the outbreak was caught early. He says it's critical to destroy the infected population within 24 hours.

But it could be weeks before the experts determine a cause.

"We're scratching our heads now, trying to figure out how this bird flu got into this particular house," Hatcher said.

This appears to be the first avian flu outbreak at a U.S. poultry plant in more than a year. The last was in Indiana. But there have been several recent episodes across Europe and Asia.