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Let’s Ask an Expert: Could a New Viral Threat Impact Travel to Disney?

h5n1 bird flu disney world
Credit: Disney/ Canva

Trying to find competitive reference materials for our readers can sometimes be difficult. We writers scan through hours of sources to find something that’ll resonate well and keep each of you engaged with our blogs. Often, we like to take a look at what’s trending online when trying to find that perfect topic. Today, in doing just that, I was surprised to find that “bird flu” was a hot-button subject on Google.

bird flu

Credit: Flickr @FabioMuniz

If you haven’t heard the latest, there’s a new strain of the Avian flu that has now mutated the ability to infect humans. Obviously, the risk of something like avian influenza spreading to humans is big news and an even bigger Public Health concern.

In a world still reeling from COVID-19 and global shutdowns only four years ago, the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, which wild birds and pet birds could carry, is a concern for many, especially those with co-morbidities and compromised immune systems.

Related: Disney Tourism Update: CDC Warns of National Surge of Dangerous Virus

So, although it doesn’t relate directly to Disney World, the fact that this new avian influenza stain (bird flu) has begun spreading to different species of farm animals and even humans, with potential warnings on the horizon, let’s dive further into Avian influenza A(H5N1) and ask an expert what to expect!

Let’s Ask an Expert About Bird Flu

Let’s be clear first: I’m the expert here, and we will ask. A little-known fact about me is that, outside of writing for a Disney fan page, I’m also an infectious disease professional who works closely with at-risk communities.

bird flu test

Credit: Canva

That may be surprising for some, and despite my education and career, if you have concerns over avian flu, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider!

However, we can look at the available research and deduce a few things about bird flu, human infection, and possible travel issues, specifically to Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

What Is Bird Flu?

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a highly pathogenic viral infection primarily affecting wild birds and domestic poultry. It can also infect humans and other mammals, causing severe illness and, in some cases, death.

The avian influenza virus can spread through infected birds, poultry, and contaminated environments, posing a significant risk to animal and public health. Bird flu outbreaks have led to concerns about disease control, especially in the poultry industry. To safeguard human and animal populations, healthcare providers and public health authorities must monitor and prevent the transmission of bird flu.

Credit: Canva

The Centers for Disease Control and other organizations are currently closely monitoring this new stain, H5N1, but here’s the thing: it isn’t new.

In recent years, the world has witnessed several instances of H5N1 human infection, causing significant concern among health professionals and the public alike. The same highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus discussed before is the culprit behind these cases. This virus, primarily found in infected birds, particularly poultry and wild birds, has the potential to jump the species barrier and infect humans.

Infection Rates

Human infections with H5N1 typically occur through direct or close contact with infected birds or their contaminated environments. The World Health Organization (WHO) and national health authorities emphasize the importance of disease prevention and control measures to limit the spread of the virus and protect public health. Many of the preventative methods are similar to the guidance provided during COVID-19.

Per WHO, since 2003, a total of 889 cases, including 463 deaths associated with H5N1, have been reported in 23 counties as of April 1, 2024. Those numbers present a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 53%. This number proportionately describes the severity of the disease in terms of mortality.

chicken

Credit: Canva

The most recent case in the United States, reported in Texas, is the first of four in the Americas, with the prior being an infection in Chile in March 2023. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that the R-naught of H5N1 rests anywhere between 0.97 and 2.23. This is the likely amount of additional people infected per one case. For comparison purposes, Measles carried an R-naught of 12-18.

Prevention

One of the biggest fears of epidemiologists is a similar situation that was playing out as the world saw after the end of World War I in 1918. The Spanish Flu, caused by the H1N1 virus, killed over half a million in the United States alone.

Although these numbers don’t touch what we experienced from COVID-19, understanding the differences between 1918 and 2024 could provide further assumptions as to how damaging the unfamiliar flu could be to a population without natural immunity.

Related: CDC Warns Florida Population About “High” Levels of Infectious Virus Sweeping WDW’s State

Healthcare providers play a crucial role in recognizing and managing cases of H5N1 human infection. Early detection, isolation of the infected individual, and appropriate treatment are essential to prevent further virus transmission. Additionally, efforts to enhance emergency preparedness and response strategies are vital in containing outbreaks and minimizing the impact on affected populations.

As research and surveillance continue to monitor the evolution of the H5N1 bird flu virus and its potential to cause human infections, collaboration between animal health experts, public health officials, and infectious disease specialists remains paramount. By staying vigilant and proactive in addressing the risks associated with avian influenza, we can better protect both animal and human populations from the threat of H5N1 and other emerging infectious diseases.

Bird Flu Impacts on Travel

Currently, there are no active restrictions on travel related to Bird Flu. Given the relatively low exponential risk of spread, in my opinion (for what it’s worth), it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be looking at something like COVID-19.

However, as viral infections can mutate if the right bird meets the right person, public health officials could be looking at something completely different, which is a massive concern for those monitoring and surveilling the virus.

chicken at walt disney world

Credit: Disney/ Canva

With that in mind, and the fact that Disney World and Disneyland are not prime spots for poultry farms and live animal markets, the risk associated with visiting either place is extremely low.

However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be keeping up with trends related to the highly pathogenic avian influenza. For now, the CDC recommends that people “avoid visiting poultry farms, live animal markets, and other places where live poultry are raised, kept, slaughtered, or sold. If you must visit such places, wear a well-fitting facemask and avoid touching poultry or other birds.”

Related: Disney Preps For Its Biggest Closure Since the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020

However, do keep in mind that although Florida is home to Disney World, it is also a huge agricultural presence in the Southeastern United States, hence the warning signs posted around Orlando.

About Michael Arnold

Michael is a father, husband, and an Army Veteran. Michael spends his weekends at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando checking out new merchandise and food. Michael is a graduate of the University of Alabama and has an education background in Public Health. You can find Michael riding Pirates of the Caribbean over and over again or binge watching new Marvel and Star Wars content. Han shot first. Thor is the strongest Avenger. Roll Tide and Wash Your Hands!

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