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Bird flu detected in Calif. as worries mount about mammal transmission

Avian Influenza, commonly known as 'bird flu,' has been detected in wild birds in Santa Barbara County, Calif. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Avian Influenza, commonly known as 'bird flu,' has been detected in wild birds in Santa Barbara County, Calif. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, has been detected in Santa Barbara County, Calif., as worries about the disease's spread to mammals continued to mount.

The county's public health department announced Friday the illness has been detected among wild birds in the southern California area for the first time.

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"There have been reports of isolated cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza or more commonly known as 'bird flu,' in wild birds in Santa Barbara County," the health officials said.

The disease has not yet been detected in local poultry farms but county officials advised people who raise poultry and keep birds to take the proper precautions, such as closing their enclosures off from wild birds, draining local bodies of water, washing their hands thoroughly after handling birds and using sanitized water for their birds.

The general public, meanwhile, were urged to avoid contact with wild birds, especially dead birds and birds that appear to be sick.

According to a report published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the H5N1 'bird flu' virus can jump to mammals, specifically minks and seals. The also report raises concerns that the virus could jump to humans, although many experts contend the risk remains low.

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The current avian flu outbreak is now the largest on record in Europe and North America, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 58 million chickens have died of avian flu or have been culled among 317 commercial flocks and 441 backyard flocks in 47 states since last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

A wave of bird flu infections also spread across the United States last year. Researchers believe it originated in domestic birds in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

The spread of avian influenza has affected the poultry industry in the United States, likely contributing to increased prices for eggs.

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