How to Be Safe from Avian Influenza


Avian influenza (AI) is caused by specified viruses that are members of the family Orthomyxoviridae and placed in the genus influenza virus A . There are three influenza genera – A, B and C; only influenza A viruses are known to infect birds. Diagnosis is by isolation and characterisation of the virus. This is because infections in birds can give rise to a wide variety of clinical signs that may vary according to the host, strain of virus, the host’s immune status, presence of any secondary exacerbating organisms and environmental conditions. Even though people equate avian flu with “bird flu” or H5N1, there are more than 140 types of avian influenza circulating in the world. Some avian flu circulates in wild and domestic birds without causing overt symptoms. Other types of avian influenza kill thousands of birds at a time. Testing must be done by veterinary professionals, so report sick or dead birds immediately.

Understand that in addition to there being more than 140 types of avian influenza, there can be two types of each: low pathogenicity (“low path”) and high pathogenicity (“high path”). Low path avian flu can circulate in wild and domestic birds without causing overt symptoms. High path avian flu is generally fatal to birds. Several avian influenza viruses have jumped the normal species barrier to cause illnesses in humans and other mammals. Among the viruses of concern are H5N1, H3N2 and H7N3. Any one of these three could start a pandemic if they mutate until they spread among humans.

Report sick farm birds by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Veterinary Services at 1-866-536-7593. You can learn more about the so called Bio-security for Birds program by visiting the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s website. The proper authorities will collect samples to test the birds for avian influenza. Find out who you can report sick or dead wild birds to in your local area by visiting the USDA avian influenza website. Click on the link “Report sick or dead wild birds.” Choose your state on the interactive U.S. map, and a pop-up window will open with contact information for authorities who can oversee the sample collection and testing. Testing for avian influenza must be done within a fairly brief window before decomposition begins. It is possible that the veterinary services may not be able to gather samples suitable for testing if the bird has been dead for too long.

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About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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