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