A June 9, 2015, New Yorker article warns that the latest strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cut a swathe through the domestic poultry industry despite the best efforts of health officials and scientists working to contain it. Arguing that bird flu poses a greater threat than Ebola to human health, the article notes that the viruses responsible for recent global pandemics—including the H1N1 virus in 2009—started in animals before jumping to humans.
“If H1N1 had been more virulent, it would have killed millions of people,” biologist Nathan Wolfe told The New Yorker’s Michael Specter. “Maybe tens of millions. Once it got out there, that thing burned right through the forest. We caught an amazingly lucky break, but let’s not kid ourselves. Luck like that doesn’t last.”
In addition to describing the costs to producers, the federal government and consumers, the article also points out that the poultry farms affected by the 2015 HPAI outbreak are located next to “many of the largest hog-production facilities in the United States.” As Specter explains, “That makes for a particularly ominous convergence: epidemiologists consider pigs an ideal mixing vessel for human and animal flu viruses, because the receptors on their respiratory cells are similar to ours.”