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...Avian influenza (bird flu)...

  1. What is Avian influenza (bird flu)?
  2. What are the signs of the disease?
  3. Once it is present, how is it spread?
  4. Why is there so much concern about the current outbreaks?
  5. Does it affect humans and if so, how?
  6. What measures should we take now or in future to protect those who work with poultry?
  7. What is Tamiflu?

1. What is Avian influenza (bird flu)? Page Top
Avian influenza is a highly infectious disease affecting many species of birds, including commercial, wild and pet birds.
The most severe form of the disease (highly pathogenic) is a notifiable disease which was last confirmed in the United Kingdom in 1992.
Recent outbreaks of a new form of the virus, H5N1, have arisen in the Far East and more recently in Eastern Europe.
All people that keep poultry and other domestic birds should remain vigilant for signs of the disease and all keepers should maintain a high level of biosecurity to reduce the risk of introducing the disease.
2. What are the signs of the disease? Page Top
The severity depends upon the strain of virus and the type of bird infected.
Birds infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza viruses (HPAI) may die suddenly or show a range of clinical signs including respiratory signs, swollen heads, dullness and a drop in egg production.
Some birds, especially waterfowl, can be infected with Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza viruses (LPAI) without showing any signs of disease.
3. Once it is present, how is it spread? Page Top
AI is spread by movement of infected birds or contact with their secretions, particularly faeces, either directly or through contaminated objects, clothes or vehicles.
4. Why is there so much concern about the current outbreaks? Page Top
There is concern that the virus may change (reassort or mutate) to emerge as a new virus that is easily transmissible between people and capable of causing disease in people, birds and other animals.
5. Does it affect humans and if so, how? Page Top
Avian influenza (bird flu) is primarily a disease of birds. It is caused by influenza viruses closely related to human influenza viruses.
Transmission to humans in close contact with poultry or other birds occurs rarely and only with some strains of avian influenza.
The severity of disease in humans varies from mild disease to severe respiratory disease. This depends on the strain of virus and characteristics of the person infected.
Human deaths have been reported following severe disease.
6. What measures should we take now or in future to protect those who work with poultry? Page Top
High standards of personal hygiene for poultry workers will help prevent ingestion and inhalation of infective material and reduce the risk of transmission to others.
Thorough washing with soap and water is an effective method of decontamination and may usefully be enhanced by the use of anti-viral hand wash/wipes following effective washing.
The UK, like other countries, needs to increase its vigilance to match this increased global risk. All keepers of birds must be vigilant about the health of their birds.
You should also consider the advice to keepers, available on the Defra website.
7. What is Tamiflu? Page Top
Tamiflu is a drug which is believed to help protect humans from the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus. Tamiflu is usually available through prescription only, for between 25 and 30.

The Medical Guide is for information only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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