It’s certainly dangerous if you’re a chicken or turkey. But the real danger this virus poses to North Carolina is our economy. It would be devastating if it got into commercial poultry in NC. Poultry production in NC brings in over $4.7 billion, and that’s just from farm sales. When you factor in all the jobs around poultry production, processing, cooking, and consuming, the economic impact of poultry goes up to around $40 billion.
And it’s not just dollars and cents. NC accounts for about 12% of all the poultry production in the United States. If you think grocery store shelves are sparse now, just think how much worse that could get if we lost 12% of the poultry meat and eggs in the US.
That’s why the US Department of Agriculture and the NC Department of Agriculture (NCDA) are asking people with backyard and free-range birds in NC to move them indoors and keep them away from migratory birds. This is always a good idea to limit their exposure to diseases, but it’s especially critical right now.
But I think your question was more geared toward is this dangerous to people. As in, can bird flu infect people? The honest answer right now is we don’t know. There is no evidence that the virus found in wild birds in NC is one that might be able to infect humans, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t. It could just be it hasn’t had the chance yet. Again, this is another reason why the USDA and NCDA are encouraging people to bring their birds indoors: to limit the chances it gets to try and make the jump.
If it can jump, the people at greatest risk are those who raise poultry, either as pets or for food. They will be the proverbial canary in this coal mine. If you raise poultry, especially if they are kept outside, you need to do all you can to keep your birds from getting infected. And if, in spite of your best efforts, they still end up getting infected, you need to know what to look for. The NCDA has a good summary of disease signs in poultry.
If you suspect your birds have it, you need to call a veterinarian. Handle it like the highly contagious virus it is: use gloves, masks, and a lot of disinfectant. And don’t try to nurse them back to health. It may sound funny to some, but that’s how a lot of people in other countries have contracted bird flu and died.
Once thing I can’t stress enough though: there is zero risk of getting bird flu from eating poultry products. First, no commercial poultry in NC, or the US for that matter, has bird flu. If any farms do end up getting bird flu, those birds will not enter the food supply.