Avian Flu special global report

Essential information for farmers on Avian Flu (more recent content added 13 November, 2007)

Avian flu has been confirmed in the UK and a number of European countries. This page has all the latest information on avian flu (also known as bird flu) and how it affects UK farmers and poultry farmers and some general information on the threats for humans. Bookmark this page to keep up-to-date with all the latest news and information on avian flu.

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The Facts (last updated 1 November, 2006)



hat is bird flu?
Bird flu (avian influenza) is a highly infectious disease affecting many species of birds, including commercial, wild and pet birds. It may also affect people and other animals in certain circumstances.

Which strains are important?
Bird flu viruses are classified according to their ability to cause severe disease – either highly pathogenic or low pathogenic. There are different strains but the one currently of concern is the highly pathogenic H5N1 subtype.

How is it transmitted?
Wild birds worldwide carry avian flu viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, these birds can shed the viruses in their saliva, nasal secretions and faeces, which can cause domesticated birds such as chicken and turkeys to become infected after contact with water, feed, dirt or other contaminated surfaces.

In domestic poultry, there are two main forms of the disease: One that causes mild symptoms, and one that spreads rapidly through flocks and has a high mortality rate, often within 48 hours. The H5N1 virus, which falls in the second category, is extremely dangerous.

How might I catch it?
Most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds. Human infections have been reported mainly in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

So far, it appears that a large amount of the virus must penetrate very deeply into a human lung to cause disease. Simply getting a small amount into the throat or nose appears not to be a significant risk for developing illness.

What are the signs of the virus?
The severity depends upon the strain of virus and the type of bird infected. Infected birds may die suddenly or show a range of clinical signs including respiratory signs, swollen heads, dullness, a drop in egg production, and a loss of appetite.

The symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of avian flu may depend on which virus caused the infection.

To date, disease experts have not had cause to label the flu a pandemic, or global outbreak, because there have been no confirmed cases that the virus has spread from human to human.

But many scientists and government agencies are afraid that it is only a matter of time before the virus will become a real threat. All influenza viruses have the ability to change their genetic code (or mutate), which means that H5N1 could change into a form that could spread easily from one person to another.

The World Health Organization is now studying various avian flu deaths in southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, to see if there has been any human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Why is there so much concern about the current outbreaks?
Because the potential threat from a virus mutation – see above.

Media reports suggest the bird flu virus will kill millions of people, is it the same disease?
No, bird flu is primarily a disease of birds. Transmission to humans in close contact with poultry or other birds rarely occurs.

According to the World Health Organization, as of October 16 2006, 256 people have had confirmed cases of bird flu, and 151 of those people have died.

What is the treatment for humans?
Currently, there are a few test vaccines that could protect humans against bird flu. The pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has done several tests on a particularly promising new avian flu vaccine, but it has not yet been proven in the field, so there is no confirmation that it will work during a pandemic.

The H5N1 virus appears to be resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral medications commonly used for influenza. Two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza), can treat influenza caused by H5N1 virus, but they need to be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.

Is it safe to eat poultry or game?
The Food Standards Agency considers that the outbreak of bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers. World Health Organisation advice is that there is no health risk from cooked poultry meat or from eggs.

I keep birds, what should I do?
DEFRA stresses that the risk of virus reaching commercial UK flocks remains low, but urges vigilance by following its biosecurity guidance available on the DEFRA website (www.defra.gov.uk).

Comprehensive Q and A on Avian Bird Flu are available on the DEFRA website …

Other useful sources of information on avian flu (bird flu)

Centres for Disease Control
World Organisation for Animal Health
World Health Organisation
European Centre for Disease Control
Health Protection Agency
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs