The risk that a highly infectious strain of avian flu virus named H5N2 will infect humans is “low at this time,” CDC officer Alicia Fry said during a press conference on April 22, 2015. The virus, which infects turkeys and chickens, is different from previous flu strains that have been able to infect humans, she said. So far, it has “not caused infections in humans anywhere in the world.”
Yes, she is absolutely correct: at this moment, H5N2 doesn’t pose a threat to human health. The general public doesn’t have to fear that the Spanish flu will repeat itself, and that is probably the reason CDC organized this press conference, so the public can go on with their life as if nothing has happened. But the risk of human infection is only half of the story: H5N2 is like EBOLA to poultry, especially to turkeys. Therefore the public should be careful when they enter wildlife areas, and farmers should mistrust each and every visitor to their farm, because the public is not aware of these risks. And this unawareness of the public poses an absolute risk for the poultry industry. To demonstrate this, I would like to share the story how in 2003 Belgium farms most likely got infected during the European outbreak of H7N7:
The news media was trying to cover an outbreak of AI in Holland, and in order to get a better view on what was happening on the farm, the film crew went (without protective clothing) over the barrier, on to the farmland, close to the barn. Halfway they’re filming, the local police, who spotted the film crew in the possible infected field, stopped them and ordered them to leave the area immediately. Because they had to deliver their material before a specific deadline, they crossed the nearby border between Holland and Belgium, and finished their film on a similar looking farm, 40 km into Belgium, were there were no outbreaks of AI at that time. They managed to end their reportage in time for the 8 O’clock, but with the result that soon after that, the first outbreak occurred in Belgium at the farm where the crew had finished their reportage. Later on, in search of what caused the virus to jump from Holland to Belgium, this event was mentioned as the most likely route.
The moral of this story is that the message that H5N2 poses little risk on human infections, but that the infection risks for poultry are extremely high: avoid the risk of spreading contaminated materials to farm areas!