What is bird flu?
Avian flu, or bird flu, is a contagious flu that spreads among bird species, but in rare cases can spread to humans.
It is an infectious disease in birds caused by a variant of the standard influenza A virus.
Avian flu is unique in that it can be transmitted directly from birds to humans.
There are 15 different strains of the virus. It is the H5N1 strain that infects humans and causes deaths.
People can contract bird flu directly from close contact with live infected birds and those who work with infected chickens are most at risk.
Like human flu, there are many types of bird flu:
The current outbreak in birds in the US is H5N1.
Where has it been spotted in the US?
To date, H5N1 viruses have been found in U.S. commercial and backyard birds in 29 states and in wild birds in 36 states. There is only one documented human case of HPAI in the US.
How deadly is the virus?
The death rate from bird flu in humans is estimated at 50 percent.
But because transmission to humans is so rare, about 500 deaths from bird flu have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997.
Is it transferable from birds to humans?
Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and usually do not spread from person to person.
Avian flu is spread through close contact with an infected bird or the body of a bird.
This can be:
- touching infected birds
- touching feces or bedding
- killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking
Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: ‘Transmission of bird flu to humans is rare because direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the affected individual is necessary.
“It is a risk to handlers tasked with disposing of carcasses after an outbreak, but the virus is not widespread and poses little threat.
“It’s not behaving like the seasonal flu we’re used to.
“Despite the current heightened concern about viruses, there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no public alarm is needed.”
About 38 million birds in domestic flocks have died from bird flu outbreaks since early February.
According to a USDA count, 780,000 birds in commercial flocks died from HPAI or were culled so far in May, compared with 1.49 million birds in February, 20.96 million in March and 14.73 million in April.
But as summer looms on the horizon, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests the threat of the spread will diminish as we welcome warmer weather.
The last detection of HPAI was during the 2014-15 epidemic, one of the worst animal disease outbreaks in U.S. history. It caused some 43 million laying hens and pullets to die, along with 7.4 million turkeys.
What are the symptoms?
Bird flu symptoms usually take three to five days to appear, with the most common being:
- a very high temperature
- whether it feels hot or shivering
- sore muscles
- a cough or shortness of breath