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Avian Flu Information...
Author: BrunoTitle: Avian Flu Information
Date: 2005-09-06 11:24:45Uploaded by: webmaster
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Avian Influenza / Avian Flu / Bird Flu is a highly infectious viral disease that can affect all species of birds. It can ‘jump’ from birds to humans, causing severe illness. It can also kill people.

Avian Flu has two significant implications for human health:
  1. Its potential to mutate into a more dangerous form that can ‘jump’ easily from person to person;
  2. Its continued spread around the world increases the opportunity for people to become infected with human and avian flu viruses at the same time. If this happens, the person could act as a 'mixing vessel'. Avian Flu and Human flu could exchange genes, enabling a new strain of flu virus to emerge, capable of spreading easily between people and cause severe illness and death, on a world wide scale. A flu pandemic could kill millions of people.

People can only catch some strains of avian flu. Symptoms range from mild conjunctivitis to typical flu-like illness, which can lead to acute respiratory illness, viral pneumonia and death. The classic symptoms of the H5N1 virus infection are: sudden onset with cough and fever and high fever. There is currently no vaccine for the treatment of avian flu in people, though one is being developed.

Most cases of avian flu in people occur through direct contact with infected poultry or other birds or their faeces. Faecal material can contaminate feathers, dust, soil, water, feed, equipment and clothing.

There aren’t the same ‘easily recognisable’ classic symptoms in birds and they cover a wider range: apparently healthy then sudden death; neurological symptoms like head twisting; ‘off colour / depressed’; conjunctivitis. Infection also occurs across many bird species including domestic poultry, waterfowl (geese, ducks and swans), Greater Flamingo, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Gull, feral pigeon, tree sparrow etc. In Clinical studies, other birds were successfully infected with the virus, again causing varying degrees of illness.

In 2004 an outbreak of Avian flu occurred in poultry in British Columbia, Canada, and federal authorities were prepared to destroy all racing pigeons within their quarantine area. While pigeons generally seem to be resistant to strains of Avian Flu, it is possible for them to be mechanical carriers (on their feathers) in the right circumstances. This is a risk that cannot be overlooked.

Too often though, pigeons automatically become a favourite 'whipping boy' whenever the public is aroused on issues such as this one. Fanciers must try to provide some balance on the role of pigeons in this disease. Absolute certainty that pigeons are not involved in Avian Flu does not seem to be possible, and given the tendency of this virus to mutate, pigeons cannot be discounted entirely.

Pigeons accessing the same ground area, food or water supplies as wild birds, or vice versa, risk becoming mechanical carriers of H5N1. If H5N1 was present in racing pigeons, DEFRA’s Contingency Plan provides only for wholesale slaughter, and premises and area movement controls being put in place. There is also the greater risk to human health of a sick owner providing an Avian Flu virus with a potential bridge to a Human Flu virus, which could exchange genes within the owner, creating a deadly new strain of virus. That is just what the World Health Organisation fears most, the start of a new flu pandemic.

In addition to the virus being difficult to predict, its method of transmission from country to country is also unknown. A 2002 outbreak in Hong Kong spread through South East Asia in the following years, entering Russia in 2005. It is now not a question of if it reaches the UK, but when. As we are also approaching our winter flu period, it is a particularly dangerous time for this virus to appear here.

Shouldn’t we as responsible human beings be alert to these risks and take reasonable and sensible precautions against them becoming reality? Do we really want to go down in history for a different reason? You’ll probably not remember his name Thomas Farrinor. But you will remember both his profession – baker - (King’s baker actually) and his address - Pudding Lane, London – hundreds of years after the event everyone in the UK still knows the place where the Great Fire of London began.

And what would be reasonable and sensible precautions for pigeon fanciers in the light of heightened risk to ourselves and our birds from Avian Flu, and a government whose only plan for action entails wholesale slaughter of our birds?

On 22nd August the Dutch Government ordered free range poultry to be brought inside ‘to wild bird-proof’ sheds, as a precautionary measure against the spread of Avian Flu. No ifs, buts, maybes, or euro signed-eyes there – they did it for the greater good of all.

The Dutch Poultry Industry also co-operated wholeheartedly, because unlike anyone in the UK - government or industry – they have had first hand recent experience of Avian Flu. In their 2003 outbreak, they lost 50 million birds and one of their vets. You will agree losing a medical professional in animal care in a disease outbreak in birds is especially alarming. There were 80 cases of conjunctivitis amongst poultry workers, cullers and close contacts i.e. they spread the disease to their families and friends.

The Dutch Government has experience of Avian Flu and has taken reasonable and sensible precaution which in their recent experience are sufficient to keep the birds (and their carers) safe – you ‘simply’ lock the birds up in a wild bird-proof building. A loft is a wild bird-proof building. Locking healthy pigeons up now, before the virus gets to the UK, would then appear a reasonable and sensible precaution for all pigeon fanciers throughout the UK. This together with good personal hygiene, bird hygiene, loft hygiene and a simple bio-security measure like a disinfectant boot wash outside the loft door, are enough to keep the birds and us safe from Avian Flu, if not from our government. But then, we have contingency plans too.

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