Avian Influenza - The Bird Flu Where the Bird Flew

The bird flu, or avian influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory disease of birds caused by an influenza virus. The virus is carried by apparently healthy wild birds and transmitted to domestic birds (poultry, turkey and ducks) through body fluids and feces. Migratory birds "fly" the virus across the world carrying it in their intestines. In addition, poultry trade moves poultry and poultry products contaminated with the virus between cities and states. These "transport methods" explain why the disease tends to be epidemic (large area wide) or pandemic (world wide). When the influenza virus enters a susceptible domestic avian population it causes high mortality and morbidity. Not only many birds die from the disease, but also entire populations in the affected area are destroyed in an effort to contain the virus. This has devastating effects on the entire poultry industry. 

The avian influenza can be transmitted from birds to people directly and rarely between people. Some strains, such as the H5N1 are more dangerous and deadly and have claimed human victims in the past few years. Scientists are concerned because the influenza virus is constantly changing and affects various species. Therefore it is possible that the virus will mutate and adapt to the human host. The human body lacks immunity to the avian virus and if such transformation occurred, a pandemic flu will result, causing severe disease and death throughout the globe. According to the CDC, a medium-level pandemic could cause 89,000 to 207,000 deaths, 314,000 and 734,000 hospitalizations, 18 to 42 million outpatient visits, and another 20 to 47 million people sick. Between 15% and 35% of the U.S. population could be affected, and the economic impact could range between $71.3 and $166.5 billion. 

Currently there is no vaccine for the specific influenza H5N1 virus but two companies are already working on its development. In addition there are several antiviral medications that can be used for post infection treatment. World wide efforts are taking place to anticipate and fight the eminent bird flu pandemic. 

More information is available at the CDC website

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