Updated 9/19/18 at 6:50 a.m. ET
Key findings: Three consecutive independent global reviews have all concluded that the probability of a “suicide” variant of bird flu in humans is “low” or “very low,” according to the World Health Organization.
South Africa is facing a deadly flu epidemic and the U.S. is advising travelers to cancel all non-essential visits to the country.
For over two months, South Africa has struggled to stop a deadly strain of bird flu from spreading among domestic poultry and eventually crossing over to humans.
Birds infected with a H5N1 strain of the flu virus have been found in more than 100 cities and towns across the country. Some of the initial transmissions infected domestic fowl from imported birds, but it has not yet been determined whether the outbreak is connected to the imported bird flu in poultry.
The disease is believed to have started in early August, and it appears to have originated in the community of eland cattle. So far, 70 humans in South Africa have been infected with the H5N1 virus, and more than 40 of them have died, according to the World Health Organization.
The human cases were found in Venda, the main ethnic group in the Eastern Cape Province, where the first H5N1 virus was discovered. On Tuesday, South Africa issued an alert about the situation to countries outside the African continent.
“We are collaborating closely with our partners and any country with citizens or any individuals traveling to South Africa to advise against non-essential travel,” the country’s Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said during a press conference on Tuesday.
He emphasized that the disease “would not pose a major threat” to South Africa’s national security, “but we are keeping the status under review.”
South Africa’s government reportedly agreed to a temporary ban on poultry imports from international markets. But it is still advising residents to avoid poultry at food stores, according to the government website.
As a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started alerting health care providers and other first responders to the threat of avian influenza. South Africa, however, is not considered a risk to Americans traveling there, the CDC said.
If the H5N1 virus reaches Europe, Japan or North America, it’s possible that the clinical symptoms similar to bird flu disease could be picked up in humans, according to the CDC. And the virus could cause epidemics similar to the lethal 1918-19 influenza pandemic.
Because there is no vaccine or medication to control or treat this human flu strain, the World Health Organization recommends countries consider prohibiting commercial poultry trading and appointing protective measures for poultry flocks, veterinarians and workers in poultry trade areas.