Are we on the brink of a Bird Flu Pandemic in the UK? That is the big question that everyone is wondering about in recent times. Only a few months ago Avian Influensa or bird flu as its known more widely was only reported in distant countries. In recent months the outbreak has been reported in European countries and now in the last month the first few cases have been reported in the UK.
Avian Influensa or bird flu is a highly contagious disease of birds caused by virus influenza. Bird flu is currently only affecting poultry and some in some cases people’s infection in the Far East. The virus strain is currently named H5N1 and can be spread by animals via contaminated droppings; this can be spread among other birds and passed onto other animals through ingestion and inhalation of the droppings.
It has been reported that no bird species are immune to this Avian influenza. Migratory birds such as wild ducks, geese can carry the virus between different countries and often show no signs of the symptoms connected with illness. Poultry flocks are particular vulnerable to epidemics of a severe and quick form of the disease.
According to the World Health Organisation there is evidence that the H5N1 strain has the capacity to jump between species and cause severe disease in people resulting in potential mortality. The history of avian influenza began in poultry in Korea in late 2003. This then spread between birds in countries such as Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa.
The United Kingdom and the European Union have controls in place to prevent the outbreak of the virus, however it is still possible for wild poultry or poultry left outdoors to become infected through contamination with wild birds. The black market also poses a risk from spreading the virus through illegally imported birds which do not meet the required control methods in place.
H5N1 is able to infect people which are the most serious risk to society, the exchange of human and animal viruses can easily occur. Of the reported cases in humans, all have been in contact with infected birds but as yet only caused mild conditions such as eye infections and mild flu symptoms.