Avian Flu: Understanding the Virus and Its Impact

June 6, 2023by Jamie Browning0

In recent years, the threat of avian flu has become a pressing concern for global health organisations and governments around the world.

Also known as bird flu and avian influenza, avian flu is a highly infectious viral disease that primarily affects birds, particularly poultry. However, certain strains of the virus have the potential to transmit to humans, leading to severe illness and even death in some cases.

You should be aware of the signs of avian flu and know how to protect yourself and others against the risk of infection. Always act quickly if you suspect an outbreak and arrange a specialist avian flu decontamination service service to stop the virus from spreading.

Understanding Avian Flu

What is avian flu?

Avian flu is a viral disease caused by influenza A viruses, which belong to the Orthomyxoviridae family.

Avian influenza viruses have a natural tendency to spread among various species of wild aquatic birds and can infect not only domestic poultry but also other bird species and animals.

Can humans get avian flu?

Yes, humans can contract avian flu, although it is relatively rare.

According to data from the World Health Organization, there have been 868 cases of human infection with the avian flu A (H5N1) virus around the world since January 2003. Of these cases, 457 were fatal.

Does avian flu affect garden birds?

The RSPB says that garden birds currently appear relatively unaffected by avian flu.

While the risk of avian flu in garden birds is generally low, it is always recommended to maintain good hygiene practices when handling or feeding any type of bird to minimise the potential spread of diseases.

Can dogs get avian flu?

Yes, dogs can potentially get avian flu, although it is relatively uncommon.

Cases of avian flu viruses in dogs usually occur when dogs come into close contact with infected birds or their contaminated environments. Dogs may also become infected if they eat sick or dead infected birds.

Dead chickens which have died from avian influenza in farm.

In general, any setting where people are in close proximity and share facilities and surfaces can be a high-risk setting for Norovirus outbreaks. This includes healthcare settings, schools, and cruise ships.

Types of Avian Flu

Avian flu has various subtypes including H5N1, H7N9, H5N6, and H5N8.

Each subtype has its own characteristics and poses unique challenges in terms of transmission and potential impact on human and animal health.

  • H5N1: First identified in Hong Kong in 1997, H5N1 is relatively rare but is known for its high mortality rate in both birds and humans. H5N1 viruses have been responsible for most human illnesses from avian flu.
  • H7N9: The H7N9 subtype emerged in China in 2013 and has caused several outbreaks since then. It primarily affects poultry, but there have been a few cases of H7N9 causing severe respiratory illness in humans.
  • H5N6: H5N6 is another subtype of avian flu that was first detected in China in 2014. It typically affects poultry and wild birds, although there have been a few cases of H5NG in humans.
  • H5N8: The first outbreak of H5N8 was also reported in China in 2014 and it has since spread to several areas of the world. H5N8 has not been associated with significant human infections, and the risk of transmission is considered low.

Transmission of Avian Flu from Birds to Humans

The avian influenza virus is primarily spread from birds to humans through close contact with an affected bird. Here are the main routes of transmission:

  • Touching infected birds
  • Touching droppings or bedding
  • Killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking
Poultry suffering from avian flu

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Avian Flu in Humans

Symptoms of avian flu include:

  • Fever-like symptoms e.g. a high temperature or feeling shivery
  • Aching muscles
  • Headache
  • A cough
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness
  • Chest pain
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums

How long do symptoms take to develop?

It usually takes 3 to 5 days for the first symptoms to appear, although symptoms can become apparent as little as a few hours after infection.

Is avian flu dangerous to human health?

While human infections with avian flu viruses are relatively rare, they can lead to severe illness and, in some cases, death. It is possible to develop severe complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome within days of symptoms appearing.

Seeking treatment quickly and taking antiviral medications may reduce the risk of developing serious complications.

How to get tested for avian flu?

A doctor can take a nose and throat swab to see if they contain the avian influenza virus. Phlegm can also be tested for the virus.

Treatment and Symptom Relief for Avian Flu

Is there a vaccine to protect against avian flu?

There is currently no bird flu vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect against bird flu viruses.

What should I do if I have symptoms of avian flu?

According to the NHS website, you should use NHS 111 online (111.nhs.uk) or call NHS 111 if you experience any symptoms of bird flu and have visited an area affected by bird flu in the past 10 days.

If you’re abroad, seek medical attention straight away if you start experiencing any of the symptoms of bird flu. Your travel insurance provider should be able to provide you with advice about how to get help.

How is avian flu treated?

You may be given antiviral medicine such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) if you are diagnosed with an avian influenza virus. The specific antiviral medication and duration of treatment will depend on factors such as the virus subtype and the severity of symptoms.

Severe cases of avian flu may require hospitalisation, especially if an infected person develops complications such as pneumonia.

What can be done to prevent future outbreaks?

You must assess the effectiveness of control measures and take necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

This may involve:

  • Encouraging good hygiene practices in the workplace e.g. by placing signs reminding employees of the correct hand washing techniques.
  • Providing personal hygiene training to ensure a high standard of hygiene in the workplace and beyond.
  • Improving cleaning and disinfection protocols in the workplace.
  • Hiring professional cleaners to improve hygiene standards.
Disinfecting to stop the spread of avian flu at a farm.

Prevention and Control of Avian Flu

What personal hygiene practices should I follow?

Following good hygiene practices is the best way to avoid getting or spreading avian flu. You should:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. This is especially important before and after handling raw poultry.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.
  • Use different utensils for cooked and raw meat and make sure that meat is always cooked thoroughly before eating.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throw used tissues in the bin as quickly as possible.

How can I keep my environment safe and hygienic?

Following an effective cleaning schedule and sanitising hard surfaces regularly with a quality disinfectant like Byotrol 4-in-1 multi-purpose cleaner will reduce the risk of avian flu infections.

You should also avoid going near bird droppings or sick/dead birds. If you are travelling to countries that have had an outbreak of bird flu, avoid visiting live animal markets or poultry farms.

A selection of Byotrol products

Outbreak Management

What are the signs of an avian flu outbreak?

Signs that a bird may be infected with bird flu include:

  • Sudden death
  • Swollen head
  • Closed and runny eyes

For a full list of avian flu symptoms in birds, read the government’s guide on Bird flu (avian influenza): how to spot and report it in poultry or other captive birds

What should I do if I suspect an avian flu outbreak?

If you suspect avian flu in poultry or other captive birds, you must report it immediately by calling:

  • 03000 200 301 if you’re in England
  • 03003 038 268 if you’re in Wales
  • APHA Field Services if you’re in Scotland

You are breaking the law if you do not report a suspected case of avian flu. You can find out more by visiting GOV.UK.

How is avian flu contained and controlled?

If bird flu is suspected in the UK, 3km and 10km temporary control zones may be put in place around the infected premises. If bird flu is confirmed, disease zones are put in place around the premises to stop the virus from spreading.

Where outbreaks occur, it is also often the policy to cull all poultry, whether infected or healthy, to contain the spread of avian flu.

What avian flu restrictions are in place?

Nationwide restrictions may also be introduced to help control an outbreak of avian flu.

For instance, mandatory housing measures for poultry and captive birds were introduced across England and Wales on 7 November 2022 to help stop the spread of avian flu. These were lifted on 18 April 2023 following a robust assessment of the risk level.

A signpost advising of an Avian Flu infection zone, Chelsworth, Suffolk, England, UK November 2022

The Role of Ultima Environmental in Avian Flu Decontamination and Disease Control

Ultima Environmental is a decontamination service provider with over 20 years of experience. We offer professional disease control services for Avian Flu, Strep A, Norovirus, and Covid-19.

You can have confidence knowing that our biohazard cleaners have the expertise to carry out avian flu decontamination services safely, effectively, and discretely.

Expertise and industry standards

Our biohazard cleaners have been providing infectious disinfection services nationwide for many years and receive intensive training on how to control avian flu outbreaks.

You can have confidence knowing that our avian flu decontamination service is fully-regulated and adheres to the highest industry standards.

Customised solutions for various settings

Our disease control services are also fully customisable and can be tailored to meet the specific needs of different environments, such as small farms, and commercial poultry.

Key takeaways

  • While rare, avian flu can pass to humans through close contact with an infected bird.
  • The virus can cause serious and life-threatening illnesses including pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • You should take proactive steps to maintain a safe environment and protect yourself and others against the risk of infection.
  • If you suspect an avian flu outbreak, you must report it to the relevant authorities immediately. You should also arrange a specialist avian flu infection control service to stop the virus from spreading.

Get in touch to arrange Avian Flu infection control

If you are concerned about the impact of avian flu or suspect an outbreak, get in touch to find out about our avian flu decontamination services.

Our team are experts in avian flu disease control and will act swiftly to ensure that the virus is contained.

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