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Marin County unveils webpage on bird flu

Marin Independent Journal - 6/17/2024

Jun. 18—Marin County public health officials have launched a new webpage tracking the H5N1 virus known as "bird flu."

Dr. Matthew Willis, the county's public health officer, said the webpage was created to keep the community informed about the issue. The dashboard information aims to serve as a guide on how to stay safe.

"The impetus was not growing public concern, and we are not asking our public to be on high alert," he said. "Rather, we recognized this is an emerging threat and wanted to be proactive in our communications."

Willis said that the virus has not been detected in humans and cows in Marin County. This year, two wild birds tested positive for H5N1 and a poultry farm was affected last December, he said.

The county's H5N1 webpage has information about the virus and prevention, and tips for farmworkers, veterinarians and animal rescue workers who might be exposed to infected animals.

Workers are advised to wash their hands between interactions with animals, wear safety goggles or face shields and regularly wash their work clothes to avoid spreading the virus at home.

The risk of human H5N1 infection is currently low. There have been four human cases in the United States since 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Symptoms of H5N1 in humans include fever, sore threat and a cough.

Symptoms have been mostly mild, but public health officials warn that might not mean the virus is largely benign.

"I definitely don't think there is room for complacency here," said Anice Lowen, a virologist at Emory University. "H5N1 is a highly pathogenic type of influenza virus, and we need to have a high degree of concern around it if it's spilling over into humans."

The San Francisco Department of Public Health reported this month that the virus was detected in wastewater samples collected in May. The samples were collected after two chickens at a live bird market in the city tested positive for the disease May 9.

Authorities said that the source of the virus in San Francisco's wastewater is unclear and that the city's sewer system incorporates both wastewater and stormwater — meaning it could be coming from animal waste, milk, people or a combination of sources.

In Marin County, the public health staff is checking for bird flu activity by testing wastewater. So far, the wastewater has not tested positive, they reported.

The county's H5N1 webpage can be viewed at MarinHHS.org.

IJ wire services contributed to this report.

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(c)2024 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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