Bird Flu


Avian influenza
or Avian flu and sometimes called H5N1, is commonly called Bird flu. It refers to "influenza caused by viruses in birds.  Birds, just like people, get the flu.

Bird flu viruses infect birds, including chickens, poultry and wild birds such as ducks. Most bird flu viruses can only infect other birds.

Human infection is still very rare, but the virus that causes the infection in birds might change, or mutate, to forms that more easily infect humans. This could lead to a pandemic, or a worldwide outbreak of the illness.


Bird Flu   Influenza A virus    Avian flu virus    H5N1

All known viruses that cause influenza in birds belong to the species "Influenza A virus". All sub-types of Influenza A virus are adapted to birds, which is why Avian flu virus is the Influenza A virus (The "A" does not stand for "avian").

Influenza A virus subtype H5N1, also known as A(H5N1) or simply H5N1, is a subtype of the Influenza A virus which can cause illness in humans and many other animals.


FACTS About Bird Flu

H5N1 is an avian (bird) disease and the first case of a it infecting a person directly was in Hong Kong in 1997 when it jumped from chickens to humans.  Since then, the bird flu virus has spread to birds in countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.  Since 2004 it has spread through poultry and wild bird populations across Eurasia. 

Although there is no evidence of efficient human-to-human transmission or airborne transmission to humans.  In almost all cases, those who were infected with H5N1 had extensive physical contact with infected birds.

About 60% of humans known to have been infected with the H5N1 have died from it. 
H5N1 may also mutate into a strain capable of human-to-human transmission.

In 2003, world famous virologist Robert Webster published an article in American Scientist entitled "The world is teetering on the edge of a pandemic that could kill a large fraction of the human population" .  He called for adequate resources to fight what he saw as a major world threat to possibly billions of people.

Due to the high lethality of H5N1 and its significant ongoing mutations, the H5N1 virus is the world's largest current pandemic threat.  Billions of dollars are being spent researching H5N1 and preparing for a potential influenza pandemic

At least 12 companies and 17 governments are developing pre-pandemic influenza vaccines in 28 different clinical trials that could avert a deadly pandemic infection, if the trials are successful.

Full-scale production of a vaccine that could prevent any illness at all from the strain would require at least three months after the virus erupts.

H5N1 may cause more than one influenza pandemic as it is expected to continue mutating in birds.


How Does Bird Flu Spread?

Migrating birds, like ducks and geese can carry and spread the virus to other birds and across country borders. Not all birds get sick from bird flu, but domesticated birds like chickens and turkeys can die from it.

A bird can get bird flu from another bird by coming in contact with its infected feces, secretions, or saliva.  Birds can also get sick if they come into contact with dirt, cages, or any surface that has been contaminated by a sick bird.  Therefore, live bird markets, where birds are kept in close quarters, are places where the virus spreads quickly.

It's unlikely that a person who is infected with Bird flu will spread it to other people.  So far, all the human cases of bird flu have occurred because people caught it directly from infected birds. These people lived in rural areas where many families had poultry flocks and where they butcher birds themselves.


How Can You Protect Yourself?

In most places, there is no immediate threat to humans from bird flu.  The best way to protect yourself is by doing the same things you do to protect yourself from any contagious illness. 

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom and before preparing meals and eating.
  • Wash your hands frequently if you're around someone who is sick. Don't share that person's food or eating utensils.
  • Wash your hands if you touch surfaces that manyf people have been using, such as a door handle.
  • Never eat undercooked or uncooked poultry.
  • Always wash any kitchen surfaces that have had uncooked meat on them, not just to protect against the flu but to protect yourself from other bacteria, such as salmonella bacteria.
  • Separate raw meat from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Don't use the same cutting boards, knives, or utensils for cooked or ready to eat foods that are used for uncooked meats.
  • If you're going to a country where there has been a bird flu outbreak, talk with your doctor.  Also checkout the websites of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and  WHO, the World Health Organization.
  • If you are in a country where there has been a bird flu outbreak
    • Avoid contact with chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, turkeys, quail, or any wild birds. 
    • Avoid live bird markets, local poultry farms, or any place where there could be infected poultry.
    • Avoid touching surfaces that could have been contaminated by bird saliva, feces, or urine.

When Dealing With Birds

If you are concerned about getting the virus, here are some general tips to follow when dealing with birds:

  • Always wear gloves when cleaning your feeders, or bird droppings from your feeders.
  • Avoid handling sick or dead birds, but wear gloves if you do.
  • Donít eat or drink anything while cleaning your feeders.
  • Do not smoke while cleaning feeders.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after every cleaning or contact with birds.
  • Even if you wore gloves while cleaning your feeders, wash and disinfect all tools and appliances used for cleaning.


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