Is bird flu a danger now in the United States?
No. To date, the highly pathogenic virus that has caused deaths from avian flu elsewhere has not been detected anywhere in North America. Even if it is detected in North America, there would be no cause for panic. The virus is not easily transmitted from person to person. In most cases, humans were infected through close contact with diseased poultry, poultry products (feathers, manure, etc.) or contaminated surfaces, such as dirt, water, or cages.
Since 2003, the World Health Organization has confirmed 566 cases and 332 deaths from H5N1 worldwide, as of October 2012. These cases were reported from Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. Seasonal flu is far more dangerous by comparison: the Centers for Disease Control estimates that complicatoins from seasonal flu cause about 36,000 deaths each year in the United States alone, mostly among the elderly.
The only documented cases of transmission of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus from wild birds to humans is in Azerbaijan. Seven people became ill after defeathering swans, four of whom later died. For more information about this case, read the June 26, 2006 article in The Guardian.
There have only been a few suspected cases of human-to-human infection, limited to those who were in close contact with a patient presumed to have contracted the illness from poultry. However, health officials are concerned about the potential for the virus to mutate into a form that is more easily spread from person to person. Such mutations are most likely to occur in the poultry industry, where the virus can spread through large flocks of susceptible birds, and where human workers have prolonged contact with poultry.