Avian Flu: An Overview

Prior to the COVID19 pandemic many world experts were discussing the possibility that the Avian Influenza (‘Bird Flu’) virus would mutate and jump across the species bridge and change from being an animal-to-animal disease to one which could be easily passed from human-to-human with devastating consequences. The morbidity / mortality of Avian Flu is significantly higher than what has been experienced with COVID19 and, should that viral mutation occur, the affects could easily be catastrophic with an even more severe Global Pandemic than what we have just recently experienced.

On Friday, February 10th, Professor Ian Brown, Head of Virology at the Animal and Plant Health Agency in the United Kingdom, called for work to begin on developing a vaccine for the H5N1 strain of Avian Flu. The new strain has reportedly already made a jump from infected birds to otters and foxes and the threat of human infection has now increased. Professor Brown points to the length of time it took to develop the vaccine for Covid-19 as an indication that preparation for a potential Avian Flu breakout in humans should begin as soon as possible. There is currently no record of human-to-human transmission of Avian Flu. However, it is important that people familiarise themselves with the disease, its causes, and measures to prevent infection.

Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is a viral disease that primarily affects birds. It is caused by influenza A viruses, which can occur in different strains. While most avian flu viruses do not cause illness in humans, some strains can be transmitted to humans and cause severe respiratory illness.

Avian flu viruses are classified based on the two proteins on their surface, hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). There are 18 different types of HA and 11 different types of NA, and the combination of these two proteins determines the strain of the virus. The most common strains of avian flu that have infected humans are H5N1, H7N9, and H9N2.

Avian flu viruses are usually found in wild birds, such as ducks and geese, and can spread to domesticated poultry, such as chickens and turkeys. The virus is spread through contact with infected birds or their faeces, saliva, or nasal secretions. In rare cases, the virus can also be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected birds or their environments.

The symptoms of avian flu in humans can range from mild to severe and include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, the virus can cause respiratory failure, pneumonia, and death. People who have close contact with infected birds or their environments, such as poultry farmers and bird handlers, are at higher risk of contracting the virus.

There is no specific treatment for avian flu, but antiviral medications can be effective in reducing the severity and duration of symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization, and supportive care, such as oxygen therapy, may be necessary.

Prevention of avian flu in humans involves avoiding contact with infected birds and their environments. It is also important to properly cook poultry and eggs to kill any potential viruses. Vaccines for avian flu are currently available for poultry, but there is no vaccine available for humans.

Avian flu is a serious disease that can have significant health and economic consequences. In addition to its impact on human health, outbreaks of avian flu in poultry can lead to the culling of large numbers of birds and have a significant impact on the global poultry industry. Therefore, it is important to monitor and control outbreaks of avian flu to prevent the spread of the virus and its potential impact on both human and animal health.