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Bird flu on the rise: Is this the new Ebola?

Avian influenza, or the bird flu, was big news a few years ago when people in Asia suddenly started coming down with a deadly illness linked to poultry. But then we had the Ebola scare and people forgot all about pigs, chickens and other weird causes of respiratory diseases. Perhaps we shouldn’t have. It looks like bird flu is back.

This past week, British and Dutch farmers quarantined and killed hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks after outbreaks of two separate strains of the avian flu suddenly appeared. In addition, nearby farms are being quarantined and tested to make sure it doesn’t spread. Both governments said they took swift action and so the risk to humans should be minimal.

Imagine getting up early, putting on your Sunday best, driving to church… and then being told to stay in your car because your place of worship had been taken over by thousands of chickens and experts fear an outbreak of bird flu. That strange scenario not only gave some Dutch worshipers fodder to win the best Facebook status of the day but also woke up the world to the fact that avian flu is definitely not gone.

The Centers for Disease Control agrees — for now. They have not placed any increased travel advisories due to avian flu although they do still advise avoiding bird markets and cooking or eating undercooked poultry in countries where known outbreaks have occurred. (Which actually seems like great advice no matter what country you’re in.) The World Health Organization’s October 2014 report shows 19 cases and eight deaths from the avian flu worldwide.

While those numbers certainly aren’t high and are way below the thousands of deaths from Ebola, experts are still concerned due to the nearly 50 percent mortality rate and the ease at which it spreads through bird populations. That said, no one is sounding the alarm bell yet. The CDC simply tells people to follow good hygiene practices when working with poultry, especially wild birds, and to talk to your doctor if you feel sick.

They are still encouraging everyone to get their regular flu shot as this season is still ramping up and even though it’s not as exotic, the seasonal influenza hospitalizes over 200,000 people a year.

As for the Dutch churchgoers — don’t worry, they still got their worship on by listening to the sermon via radio broadcast in their cars. Drive-through church? May not be such a bad idea. You may not have to worry about chickens in your chapel but there are all those germy-yet-adorable toddlers running around!

Are you worried about bird flu?

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