Symptoms and safety measures
Friday April 7, 2006 The Guardian
What symptoms do infected birds show?
They may die suddenly or suffer respiratory problems, swollen heads, loss of appetite and reduced egg production. The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain can spread dramatically through poultry, causing 100% fatality in flocks within two days.
Which birds catch it?
Waterfowl, ducks, swans and geese, but death from H5N1 has also been reported in crows, ravens, thrushes, starlings, sparrows, pigeons, doves, hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Dogs, cats, macaques and tigers are among mammals that have been infected.
Is it safe to be near wild birds?
The RSPB says there is no confirmed case of a person catching bird flu from a wild bird. It extremely unlikely bird flu could be spread through feeding birds but good hygiene is sensible, not letting birds feed out of hands and ensuring hands are washed after feeding or coming into contact with bird droppings.
What should you do if you spot a dead bird?
If you find a dead swan, goose or duck, or three or more dead wild or garden birds together, call the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77. Officials will consider whether birds should be examined for signs of specific disease and advise you what to do. If the dead bird is a single small bird or wild bird you have no need to call Defra. To move a dead bird, wear protective disposable gloves or a plastic bag as a makeshift glove.
What about pet cats?
Cats can become infected with bird flu and it can be fatal. They can also spread the disease. But the risk is thought to be remote, as many of the smaller garden birds likely to fall prey to cats are not the most likely to contract the disease. Should a pet become suddenly ill, it would be sensible to contact a vet.
Is it safe to eat poultry?
The virus is fragile and easily destroyed by cooking, so it is almost impossible to catch from cooked meat. The virus spreads throughout infected birds, however, so plucking them, handling them or butchering them significantly raises the risk of being exposed to the virus.
Is the virus dangerous to humans?
The H5N1 strain of avian flu has killed more than 100 people since emerging in south-east Asia in mid-2003, but in the vast majority of cases victims have fallen ill after having prolonged and close contact with infected birds, either through keeping poultry domestically or butchering them. There is limited evidence that the virus has spread between humans. Recently, scientists discovered that H5N1 does not infect cells in the upper respiratory tract of humans, which makes it less likely to spread from person to person.
Could the virus trigger a pandemic?
If the virus evolves to be easily transmissible between humans, it could trigger a devastating global pandemic. According to a Home Office report published this week an outbreak could claim 320,000 lives in Britain, despite large reserves of antiviral drugs. The H5N1 virus evolves rapidly, but only specific mutations will make it more infectious to humans. However, if the virus infects a human or animal that is already carrying human influenza, the two viruses could mix, producing a strain that is lethal and highly infectious to humans.