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How the bird flu can affect you: Today So Far

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The bird flu rarely spreads to humans, but that doesn't mean it can't affect you.

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for December 16, 2022.

Covid, and RSV, and the flu. Now get ready for ... bird flu.

Ya know, I look forward to a period when I don't write so much about viruses and pandemics, but the news is the news. And the latest news is that the bird flu has dramatically spiked throughout the Northwest and the United States. It is being called the deadliest bird flu outbreak in U.S. history.

The bird flu, as the name implies, affects birds. It doesn't spread to humans so much (that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your distance from infected/dead birds), though the first human case of bird flu was detected in Colorado in April. That person recovered within a few days.

"This year, avian influenza is spreading much more quickly in wild birds," Kevin Snekvik, executive director for the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, told Soundside. "There's over 40 different species of wild birds that are affected by this strain. So, its hosts are much more diversified than previous years."

Considering bird populations around Washington, wild birds do have one advantage — they're wild, and there are a lot of them. So far, the hundreds of cases in Washington won't make much of a dent in the total population of many species. They also have the opportunity to spread out. This isn't the case for a very specific population — commercial flocks, like chicken farms. That's where this will affect us.

Remember when we all initially responded to Covid? People socially distanced, wore masks, and eventually got shots. None of that is possible with commercial operations. There are no tiny chicken masks, as funny as that sounds. But more to the point, there is no social distancing when it comes to many commercial operations, which often keep chickens in tight groups. Those are ideal conditions for a virus to spread.

That's a big problem if you enjoy things like eggs, or baked chicken thighs in oyster sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and a dash pepper ... what was I talking about? Oh yeah...

A lot of our food in Western Washington comes from the eastern side of the state. Over near Pasco, more than a million chickens have recently come down with the virus and are being destroyed, aka killed off to stop the spread. In this case, the farm produces chicken eggs, which are sold across Washington and 10 other states. This is the first commercial flock to come down with the avian influenza in our state.

Across the USA, a total of 300 commercial flocks have been infected this year. As of early December, 52,695,450 birds were destroyed nationally. According to NPR, the situation doesn't "pose a special risk in the nation's food supply, given proper handling."

Infections at commercial flocks are mostly coming from interactions with the wild bird population. One conservation scientist told KUOW that it has been "utter chaos" recently, with so many reports of dead wild birds. From snow geese to bald eagles, crews have been responding to hundreds of bird deaths across Washington in recent months. Since many birds go into hiding when they are dying, the actual number of deaths is likely much higher.

For more information on the recent commercial chicken infection in Washington, check out Anna King's reporting here.

For more information about the rise of bird flu across Washington among wild birds, check out John Ryan's reporting here.

And check out Soundside's segment on the issue in Washington here.


caption: Lanne Stauffer preparing ingredients for pumpkin cranberry muffins that will go into her little free bakery.
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Lanne Stauffer preparing ingredients for pumpkin cranberry muffins that will go into her little free bakery.
KUOW Photo/Juan Pablo Chiquiza

Lanne Stauffer preparing ingredients for pumpkin cranberry muffins that will go into her little free bakery. Stauffer converted her Little Free Library into a free pantry filled with free baked food from her Magnolia kitchen. It's a baking effort that has grown in the Seattle area. (Juan Pablo Chiquiza / KUOW)

DID YOU KNOW?: A "Christmas Carol" that keeps on selling

"Spirited," released in November, is the latest variation on the "Christmas Carol" theme, not only showing that this story has staying power, it's the literary gift that keeps on selling. "Spirited" is now slated for a second theatrical release featuring a singalong version.

Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" was first published 179 years ago today, on Dec. 19, 1843. The first edition of this novella sold out by Christmas Eve that year. Its success was so immediately potent, that 13 editions were published and sold by the end of the next year. That doesn't count the illegal copies that sprung up by other publishers seeking to siphon off some of that "Christmas Carol" cash. Dickens sued for copyright infringement and won, forcing publishers into bankruptcy.

While it was a success, Dickens didn't make much money off the book. He was in debt when he wrote it, and was in a tense relationship with his publishers, who were demanding he produce a moneymaker for them. He wrote the novella quickly, incorporating moral lessons for greedy, well-to-do folks (perhaps a jab at his publishers?). Despite the pressure, Dickens insisted that the book be a bit fancy — golden page edges, high-end cloth, colored etchings. Then he wanted it to be sold cheaply so more people could afford it. That dynamic cut into his profits. He only made a couple hundred pounds from initial sales. In the years that followed, however, the author found that audiences would pay to hear him read the story on stage.


caption: Travelers wear masks as they wait in a line for a TSA security check, Dec. 10, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
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Travelers wear masks as they wait in a line for a TSA security check, Dec. 10, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The TSA found a record number of guns in carry-on bags this year

With two weeks left in the year, the Transportation Security Administration already broke a yearly record for most firearms intercepted at security checkpoints. The milestone comes during a period of heightened holiday travel expected to reach pre-pandemic levels. Firearms are never allowed in carry-on bags, regardless of state gun laws.


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