Bird flu

What is it?

"Bird flu", or avian influenza, is an infectious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally infect birds and, less commonly, pigs. While all bird species are thought to be susceptible to infection, domestic poultry flocks are especially vulnerable to infections that can rapidly reach epidemic proportions.

What are the causes?

Within a country, the disease spreads easily from farm to farm. Large amounts of virus are secreted in bird droppings, contaminating dust and soil. Airborne virus can spread the disease from bird to bird, causing infection when the virus is inhaled. Contaminated equipment, vehicles, feed, cages or clothing, especially shoes, can carry the virus from farm to farm. The virus can also be carried on the feet and bodies of animals, such as rodents, which act as ‘mechanical vectors’ for spreading the disease.Droppings from infected wild birds can introduce the virus into both commercial and backyard poultry flocks. The risk that infection will be transmitted from wild birds to domestic poultry is greatest where domestic birds roam freely, share a water supply with wild birds, or use a water supply that might become contaminated by droppings from infected wild-bird carriers. Also the risk of transmission of bird flu is mainly for the animal handlers and people in close vicinity. Eggs should not be taken in a raw form, not only for bird flu but also to prevent salmonella infections.

What are the symptoms?

The reported symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications. Most influenza viruses cause no symptoms, or only mild ones in wild birds; however, the range of symptoms in birds vary greatly depending on the strain of virus and the type of bird. Infection with certain avian influenza A viruses (for example, some H5 and H7 strains) can cause widespread disease and death among some species of wild and especially domesticated birds such as chickens and turkeys. Certain water birds act as hosts of influenza viruses by carrying the virus in their intestines and shedding it. Infected birds shed virus in saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. Avian influenza viruses spread among susceptible birds when they have contact with contaminated nasal, respiratory and faecal material from infected birds; however, faecal-to-oral transmission is the most common mode of spread.

What are the types?

The disease in birds has two forms. The first causes mild illness, sometimes expressed only as ruffled feathers or reduced egg production. Of greater concern is the second form, known as “highly pathogenic avian influenza”. This form is highly infectious in birds and is rapidly fatal, with a mortality approaching 100%. Birds can die on the same day that symptoms first appear.

What are the prevention?

Two classes of drugs are available. These are the M2 inhibitors (amantadine and rimantadine) and the neuraminidase inhibitors (oseltamivir and zanimivir). These drugs have been licensed for the prevention and treatment of human influenza in some countries, and are thought to be effective regardless of the causative strain. However, initial analyses of viruses isolated from the recently fatal cases in Vietnam indicate that the viruses are invariably resistant to the M2 inhibitors. Further testing is under way to confirm the resistance of amantadine. Network laboratories are also conducting studies to confirm the effectiveness of neuraminidase inhibitors against the current H5N1 strains.

DoctorNDTV Team

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