There is fear that the deadly bird flu outbreak could also spread among humans. Though experts have assured that humans are at low risk of contracting the virus, there are still concerns that it’s only a matter of time until the issue becomes another global health crisis.

Based on the latest figures by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ongoing bird flu outbreak is the worst in U.S. history after recording more than 49 million bird deaths across 46 states. The number of affected states is more than twice the number of affected states in 2015.

The CDC also tracked more than 5,190 people exposed to the bird flu virus-infected birds but only found one case of human transmission. The patient contracted the virus after direct exposure to infected poultry. He has since recovered from the mild symptoms he developed from the infection.

Public health officials maintained that avian influenza poses little threat to humans since the virus does not infect humans despite being highly contagious to birds. However, the idea that the virus could not spread among humans was questioned after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that the bird flu virus has already spread to mammals, including skunks, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, bears, possums, and even dolphins and seals.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the issue, saying that even though the risk to humans remains low, “we cannot assume that will remain the case.”

SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, is believed to have originated in bats. Due to mutations, the previously animal-specific virus reportedly developed the ability to infect humans and spread efficiently from person to person, as per the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Despite this knowledge, scientists have reassured the public that avian influenza is far from triggering a new pandemic. According to them, with a few rare exceptions, the virus hasn’t caused a large enough transmission to humans to trigger an outbreak similar to COVID-19, CNN reported.

Though human transmission is unlikely, the CDC suggested people avoid making direct contact with wild birds amid the outbreak. Washing hands after touching birds or feeders is advised.

The health-centric government agency also made it clear that bird flu is not a foodborne illness. It is safe to eat poultry and eggs, provided they are properly handled and cooked. But in the highly unlikely case that someone gets sick after consuming chicken, the CDC recommends seeking medical treatment right away.

Bird Flu (6)
A French farmer looks at ducks in their cage at a poultry farm in Doazit, Southwestern France, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau