Avian Influenza

Bird Flu

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There are a great number of avian viruses producing influenza like symptoms. They are a frequent problem in the poultry industry and disease control methods are part of the basic regime of any large enterprise.

The virus causing concern at the time of writing (February 2006) is a 'H5N1' variant. H5N1 has been found in Britain twice in recent years: Scotland 1959 & England 1991. Both times it was dealt with as a matter of routine.
See: http://www.who.int/csr/don/2004_03_02/en/

H5N1 is destroyed by ordinary cooking. Your chicken dinner is safe.

The primary means of infection is via infected faeces and in various bodily fluids. You should wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw chicken and also wash any implements and surfaces used in the process.
See: http://www.hpa.org.uk/infections/topics_az/influenza/avian/avianflufaq.htm#food

H5N1 is destroyed by a wide range of ordinary household cleaning agents including detergents. There is no need to obtain special cleaning materials.

The H5N1 influnza virus causes serious disease in domestic poultry with a very high mortality rate. It seems to be as lethal to many wild birds but possibly less so in some species of ducks. In the cases where the disease has infected humans it has also led to high mortality rates. The virus also causes serious disease in tigers and other cats and in pigs.

H5N1 is not very infectious to humans. Despite tens of millions of infected poultry fewer than 200 humans have been infected at this time. According to the World Health Organisation very few cases have been detected in presumed high risk groups, such as commercial poultry workers, workers at live poultry markets, cullers, veterinarians, and health staff caring for patients without adequate protective equipment.

H5N1 causes a very high proportion, around 90%, of an infected flock to die within a few days.

If you are a poultry keeper and you have more than 50 birds you should be on the DEFRA poultry keepers register and follow the advice given. If you have fewer than 50 birds and they begin to die in numbers then you should contact your vet.
See: http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/vetsurveillance/poultry/index.htm

The virus can survive for three months in faecal material. Infected waterfowl may contaminate water sources. The eggs of infected birds must be assumed to be infected but infected birds will lay few eggs.

The current media-led fear is that H5N1 will mutate into a form that readily infects humans.

It is inevitable that:

Unless you are a poultry keeper you have nothing to fear from the current form of H5N1.

Only if it mutates to a form capable of human to human transmission do you need to worry. Even then you will be unlikely to catch it from birds. It will be infected humans you must avoid.