Jan 18, 2019 | Updated: 03:16 PM EST

Avian Flu Invades US Via Alaska Migratory Birds: MIT Fears Of Strains Deadlier Than H5N1

Mar 24, 2017 02:06 AM EDT


Alaska can provide the route for Avian flu to enter in North America, according to an MIT study. Experts also warned that Alaska is an ideal place for new strains of flu to proliferate. To point out the possibility, H5N1 influenza was first recorded in Hong Kong back in 1997 but eventually found its way in the US by 2014. The outbreak prompts the US authorities to cull 50 million chickens and turkeys as a result.

According to campus organ MIT News, flu viruses are carried by migratory birds from Southeast Asia through the Bering Straight. Once in the area, the huge population of birds mixed up with those that were infected with endemic flu strain. As a result, what is supposed to be the Avian flu emerges as another strain. Some of these strains are potentially deadlier, like the one that spread to poultry farms in California and Oregon.

Avian flu or any subtypes can be classified within two brackets which people commonly know as H and N structures, as in H5N1. Among birds, the H5 is perennially present but the N structure seems to be the one to evolve frequently. As with the case in 2015, the US witnessed an evolved H5N2 and H5N8 strains. The MIT research is trying to unravel how such Avian flu is evolving among birds.

MIT's research had a breakthrough when they found out that common bird spots like the Bering Straight provide ground for intermingling. This process is called genetic re-assortment, wherein two different flu strains can infect the same bird, Phys.Org explained. Eventually, a deadlier strain like Avian flu develops and could find its way to infect humans.

Alaska is the most populated breeding ground for the migratory birds which ironically makes the area as a breeding ground for Avian flu as well. There is a higher risk by the time that birds move south because birds with diversified pathogenic H5 Avian flu viruses might eventually infect local hosts.

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