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Albuquerque, NM 87184
Phone: 505 828-9455
Fax: 505 828-9769
E-Mail: gail@hawksaloft.org

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What’s Up with Avian Flu?

You may have heard a lot about avian influenza (AKA avian flu or bird flu) a lot in the news lately—and it probably sounded quite scary! In an effort to assuage some of the mounting fear on the topic, we thought we’d explore what avian flu is, how it is spread, and how it behaves in the human, as well as the bird body. While avian flu has had an impact across the globe, in actuality, its effects have remained minimal. So, what is the deal with avian flu? And who does it effect?

Avian flu is a highly pathogenic disease (dubbed H5N1, with variations on the disease being numbered H5N2-9), which is quite common in wild birds. Many birds carry the virus in their intestines, but it does not make them sick or impede a heathy life in any way. Despite its mostly innocuous behavior, it is highly contagious among most birds (and across species). Researchers have been studying the way it is transferred and how wild bird bodies process and adapt to the disease since it was first isolated from terns in South Africa in 1961.

Avian Flu was first isolated in Terns in South Africa. This image by David Powell

Avian Flu was first isolated in Terns in South Africa. This image by David Powell

Birds transfer the virus between one another through saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. As mentioned above, generally, this doesn’t cause any problems, at least until the virus comes in contact with a domesticated species of birds, which includes chicken, duck, and turkey—all of which human beings like to eat. Outbreaks among poultry, in turn, put people at risk of becoming sick.

The effects in human beings vary depending on the strain—but people can’t catch the disease from wild birds, only from handling infected poultry. Symptoms in human beings include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, eye infections, and respiratory diseases.

In recent months, there have been outbreaks of avian flu in China, Taiwan, Belgium, South Africa, and the U.S., though in these instances, not every outbreak has led to sickness in humans. In fact, despite widespread concern, last year only one death from avian flu was recorded in the United States—the result of infection contracted at a turkey farm in Indiana.

The disease isn’t easy for humans to contract, thankfully, and it is difficult for humans to pass amongst each other. Since the avian flu is mostly relegated to domestic, farmed birds, it shouldn’t impede any of your birdwatching or appreciating in the slightest! Wild birds, resilient as ever, don’t suffer with avian flu in the way that other species do. Another reason to watch in wonder as they pass by overhead!

Unfortunately, farmed domestic birds are most vulnerable to Avian Flu

Unfortunately, farmed domestic birds are most vulnerable to Avian Flu

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