Good news & bad news on Bird Flu

Plus, public officials are investigating the possible respiratory spread of H5N1 in dairy cows, and arugula recalled from grocery stores due to Salmonella contamination

June 11, 2024

Bird Flu News:

  • A CDC study that infected ferrets with the same virus from the TX human case found inefficient respiratory spread, although all the infected ferrets died. (CDC)
  • Public officials are investigating possible respiratory spread of H5N1 in dairy cows. (Reuters)
  • Bird flu tests are hard to find, and flu A tests, which most doctors’ offices have, aren’t always covered by insurance outside of flu season. (KFF Health News)
  • Australia reported its first human case of bird flu. (Reuters)

Health News:

  • Arugula sold at some grocery stores was recalled due to possible Salmonella contamination. (Newsweek)
  • The U.S. has been underfunding and must pay more for Native American tribes’ healthcare, the Supreme Court found. (Reuters)
  • Pharmacists say they’re seeing the highest levels of drug shortages in decades. (Washington Post)
  • KP.3 now makes up a quarter of U.S. COVID cases and rising. As a JN.1 variant, the fall’s updated boosters should be better suited to fight it. (USA Today)
  • Moderna’s combined COVID/ Flu vaccine worked well in late stage trials, and is likely to hit the market in fall 2025. (NBC News) 
  • Tick-borne babesiosis (once called Nantucket fever) is on the rise, and a malaria drug could help. (NPR)
  • Heat rules for California workers would also help keep schoolchildren cool. (KFF Health News)
  • When temperatures soar, so do heart attacks, possibly because the heat puts hearts into ‘oxygen debt.’ (STAT)
  • Energy drinks with high levels of caffeine can increase risk of sudden cardiac arrest, especially for those with genetic predisposition. (Heart Rhythm) 
  • Plant-based ultra processed foods, like their animal-based counterparts, can also be linked to heart disease and earlier death. (CNN)

Mental Health & Substance Use News:

  • Gun suicides account for most of the gun-related deaths in the U.S., far outpacing homicides. (Axios)
  • A first-of-its-kind Youth Mental Health Corps trains young people to offer peer support. (NBC)

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or need help, call 988 or message the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. 

Best Questions:

How worried should we be about bird flu in humans? 

We’ve been anxiously awaiting the results of a CDC study that infected ferrets with the virus from the dairy cows in Texas. Ferrets are helpful because their immune systems are much closer to a human’s than a cow’s is, for example, and we can learn a lot from them about how the virus will affect us. Two big takeaways from the ferret study: all the infected ferrets died, and they spread the virus via direct contact much more easily than via respiratory droplets. Overall, CDC thinks this means there’s a “serious potential public health risk,” and while the three U.S. cases so far have been mild, “it is possible that there will be serious illnesses among people.” Just because the ferrets all died in this study doesn’t mean every human who gets this would die, but it does track with the history of serious illness and high fatality rate for previous avian flu infections in humans. But there’s good news in here, too. Viruses that spread via direct contact are much easier to contain than those that spread via respiratory droplets, so the virus would need to undergo pretty major genetic changes to spread super efficiently, the way that seasonal flu and COVID do. Ultimately, CDC still feels that the risk is low for the general public but higher for those who have animal exposures. 

Sources: CDC 

Why is whooping cough so bad this year? 

As of the end of May, whooping cough (or pertussis) cases in the U.S. were nearly 3x higher than at this time last year. Hotspots are in OR, western PA, NY, and KY right now, though we’re seeing increased case counts and outbreaks nationwide. And while these numbers are high (nearly 5,000 cases this year already), they’re actually closer to what we saw in 2018-2019, before the pandemic. Whooping cough has a kind of cycle to it, where every three to five years, there’s a surge, followed by a quieter period. Add to that natural cycle the fact that we wore masks, closed schools, and practiced social distancing, which likely lowered the number of cases during the pandemic years. More concerning is that vaccination rates of the DtaP vaccine (which protects against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria) dropped for very young children, who are most at risk of dying from whooping cough. Just this week, three infants in the U.K. died from whooping cough, so the danger is very real. If you have kids or are pregnant, talk with your doctor to ensure you’re vaccinated to help protect your family. And if you or your family have cold symptoms that turn into uncontrollable coughing (sometimes with the telltale “whoop” sound), stay home and seek medical attention. 

Sources: Washington Post, ABC, Guardian, CDC

Best Read:

The 6 Foot Rule, Fauci, and the Bigger Picture - Your Local Epidemiologist