Avian Influenza H5N1: What You Should Know About the Current US Outbreak

As a lifelong Midwesterner, I’m accustomed to the short-lived, false springs of January and February. I know to save gleeful cries of “spring is here!” until the trees bud and I can hear the buzzing trill of red-winged blackbirds and the calls of other birds returning from their winter homes. But this spring, the return of birdsong is not all good news.

In January 2022, the state of South Carolina reported a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in a wild bird—the first detected case of this virus subtype in the United States since 2016. Since then, the outbreak has spread. Two weeks ago my home state of Wisconsin reported its first case in a commercial chicken flock of nearly 3 million birds, one of the largest US flocks affected so far.

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What do Cheese and H5N1 Have in Common?

H5N1 Virions

Earlier this year, the state of Wisconsin considered adding Lactococcus lactis as the state microbe. Wisconsin is known as America’s Dairyland, and L. lactis is part of the cheese-making process. While its run to become the state microbe was ultimately unsuccessful, I wanted to learn more about the L. lactis bacterium. A quick search through PubMed yielded an intriguing paper by Lei et al., and it had nothing to do with converting milk to cheese. Continue reading “What do Cheese and H5N1 Have in Common?”