Avian influenza (bird flu)

Avian influenza (or bird flu) is a disease of birds caused by viruses. There are several strains (types) of the bird flu virus and the symptoms in birds vary from fairly mild to severe. It affects domestic poultry as well as wild birds. Infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, faeces and other body liquids.

It doesn’t often infect people but it can and when that happens, you may become seriously ill and even die. The symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle ache and may progress to pneumonia and respiratory failure (inability to breathe).

You can get infected by breathing the virus in or by accidentally bringing it into your mouth, eyes or nose on your hands – usually after close and unprotected contact with infected birds. Poultry farm workers and people who work at live-bird markets naturally have a higher risk of contracting bird flu than the general population.

One of the best-known bird flu strains is the H5N1 virus, which has caused numerous outbreaks in poultry flocks worldwide and also infected people, causing many deaths.

When a sick bird is discovered in a flock, usually the entire flock is killed. When bird flu is found among wild birds, the area is closely monitored and all domestic birds in the vicinity are either to be kept indoors or, if infected, mandatorily killed to prevent the disease from spreading.

There is the danger that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, potentially leading to a global pandemic. Any farm that keeps a large number of birds provides the perfect breeding ground for viruses. Not only because of the quantity of birds but also because when the birds are stressed by overcrowded condition and often have to live in their own excrements, it weakens their immune system and they become more susceptible to diseases.

If we are to avoid a bird flu pandemic, then we need to stop keeping large numbers of birds on farms and go vegan.