Episode 72: Fowl Play: Viewing the New Strain of Bird Flu Through a Genomic Lens

David Engelthaler

David Engelthaler Ph.D.

Professor and Director
Pathogen and Microbiome Division

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On this month’s TGen Talks, David Engelthaler, Ph.D., professor and director of TGen’s Pathogen and Microbiome Division, discusses the recent surge of bird flu, also known as H5N1.

H5N1 has been in the news a lot lately, but what does it all mean? Engelthaler breaks down the science and talks about the effects this particular strain might have on humans. He also explains what constitutes an outbreak, how they fade over time, and why they start anew.

Bird flu, like other influenza viruses, changes and mutates over time, and the H5N1 strain is particularly concerning. Although it is currently a low risk for human outbreak (there are only 3 known cases in the U.S. thus far), its impact on other animals, especially poultry and cattle, caught the attention of the CDC, USDA and other groups that monitor such outbreaks.

Engelthaler notes that outbreaks are often first noticed by wildlife managers or at zoos, where bird die-offs prompt testing for influenza. Over the past two years, the current bird flu strain has spread significantly by wild birds across North America and the rest of the world.

The good news: In Arizona, only one mammal, an Abert’s tree squirrel, has tested positive for H5N1 to date. TGen researchers are working with local wildlife and health officials to monitor the situation.