Bird Flu Detected in Raccoons, Grizzly Bears, Dolphins, and More

The world is going through one of the largest bird-flu outbreaks of all time. It has led to the killing of millions of chickens around the globe and devastated wild bird populations. Now the deadly disease is appearing in mammals. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, infections of avian flu have been recorded in a diverse array of mammals across the country, including racoons, skunks, foxes, grizzly bears, and even dolphins. This speaks to the virus’s ability to mutate and reach new victims, increasing the likelihood that it could pose greater risk for humans. 

Three out of four emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning they pass to humans from other animals. Many of these diseases originate in the meat, egg, and dairy industries. In the United States and around the world, animals raised for food are kept in filthy, crowded conditions, often without fresh air or sunlight. In these environments, viruses spread easily and rapidly from animal to animal, sometimes leading to dangerous mutations.

By mutating and spreading to wild and domesticated mammals around the world, the virus behind the current bird-flu outbreak is showing worrying signs that it could trigger a human pandemic. 

Not only are they kept in crowded conditions, but hens in egg farms are often genetically identical and have no immunity to influenza, making it easy for the disease to jump from one bird to the next. In efforts to stop the spread of avian flu where the virus is suspected, farmers are instructed to kill flocks all at once, something the industry refers to as “depopulation.” These mass on-farm killings are extremely cruel, despite being legal. 

Killing methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association include ventilation shutdown, which involves killing all the birds in a barn by turning off the ventilation system and often increasing the heat. The terrified animals panic, flap their wings, and jump around in a desperate attempt to escape. They eventually collapse and succumb to heatstroke. This horrible death often takes up to two hours.

Use of water-based foam is also an AVMA-approved killing method. The barn is filled with thick foam that covers the birds and causes them to suffocate over several agonizing minutes.

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