The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents seized a package at Dulles International Airport in Virginia that was filled with small dead birds, WTHR reported on Monday, Feb. 10.

The package belonged to a passenger who arrived on a flight from Beijing, China, on Jan. 27, 2020. The traveler’s final destination was to a residence in Prince George’s County, Maryland, WTHR reported.

“During a baggage examination, CBP specialists discovered a package with pictures of a cat and dog that the passenger said was ‘cat food.’ The package, according to officials, contained a bunch of unknown small birds, about 2.5 to 3.5 inches in length,” reads the report.

“These dead birds are prohibited from importation to the United States as unprocessed birds pose a potentially significant disease threat to our nation’s poultry industries and more alarmingly to our citizens as potential vectors of avian influenza,” said Casey Durst, director of field operations for CBP’s Baltimore Field Office. “Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists continue to exercise extraordinary vigilance every day in their fight to protect our nation’s agricultural and economic prosperity from invasive pests and animal diseases.”

China is currently struggling with an epidemic of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,000 people and infected 43,000 globally. It reported on Feb. 2 an animal outbreak of the often fatal H5N1 bird flu in thousands of chickens in Hunan Province, which is close to coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan. No human cases of the avian flu have been reported so far.

“The farm has 7,850 chickens, and 4,500 of the chickens have died from the contagion. Local authorities have culled 17,828 poultry after the outbreak,” a statement by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Feb. 1.

The transmission of the disease to humans is rare. Most cases of avian flu infection in people have been associated with “close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminate environments,” according to the World Health Organization. However, this avian flu has a high mortality rate—60 percent—among infected humans.  

The H5N1 infected human can have fever, cough, and sore throat as symptoms. The infection can cause severe respiratory illness, including pneumonia, and neurological changes such as an altered mental state and seizures. 

“If the H5N1 virus were to change and become easily transmissible from person to person while retaining its capacity to cause severe disease, the consequences for public health could be very serious,” the WHO’s website says.

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