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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bird influenza virus is obviously mutating but the source is known

Culling birds where the influenza virus H1N1 and it's genetic mutations has helped to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

While the US is obsessed with a few people who have been unfortunate enough to contract the dangerous Ebola virus, the world is still being vigiliant about the potential for a bird flu influenza outbreak. Nevertheless, the etiology of bird flu can be "culled". We must find the same solution for Ebola.

Public health researchers could consider how to cull the source of the Ebola virus, but not enough is known about the disease's origins.  I've heard some physicians claim the virus began with infected fruit bats near the Ebola River in Africa. It seems impossible to cull bat populations, especially because these flying mammals probably eat Anopheles mosquitoes that carry malaria.

Therefore, epidemiologists, those who study the sources of disease outbreaks, must figure out how fruit bats carry the Ebola virus.  Right now, of course, the focus has been on preventing an even worse epedimic than currently exists in Western Africa, especially with thousands at risk in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Meanwhile, the world health monitoring organizations including the United Nations must be very diligent about another outbreak of deadly influenza, as reported in The Guardian.  

A cull is being carried out at a duck farm in Yorkshire England, after avian flu found there, but officials stress ‘very low’ risk to public health.

There were two confirmed outbreaks in western Europe on Sunday, first at a poultry farm in the Netherlands, then at duck breeders in northern England. The Dutch authorities have started slaughtering 150,000 chickens at the farm in central Netherlands where the disease was detected. 

Later, in the UK, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed at least one case of the virus at the farm in the Driffield area of East Yorkshire. It insisted the risk to public health was “very low”, and said it was culling all poultry at the farm. 

What are the most dangerous strains?

The H5N1 form has been the cause of most concern in recent years. The strain detected in the Netherlands was identified as H5N8. This strain has never been detected in humans. Defra confirmed that the outbreak in Yorkshire was H5, but not H5N1. Three versions of the milder H7 form have also spread to humans. Both H5N1 and H7 are referred to as “highly pathogenic”, which means they are extremely contagious among birds. The disease spreads both by air and contact with bird droppings. 

Where has it appeared?

An outbreak of the H5N8 strain in South Korea earlier this year meant millions of farm birds had to be slaughtered to contain the outbreak. Cases have also been reported in China and Japan. The strain was first reported in Europe on a German farm in early November. In September, Russia reported the first cases of H5N1 in nearly two years.

If it just affects birds, why the panic?

World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show that from 2003 to October 2014, there were 668 confirmed cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Of these cases, 393 people died.

So far, most of the human deaths have been in Asia, in communities in which people live in close proximity to poultry. Although it does not easily infect humans, every time it does it increases the chance that the virus could mutate into a form that could be passed from one infected human to another. The WHO says that would probably be how a flu pandemic would start. Pandemics have occurred every 20 to 30 years, but it has been almost 40 years since the last one happened. The most severe occurred in 1918-1919, and is estimated to have killed around 50 million people worldwide.

How does it spread?

WHO scientists believe it is likely that the virus is carried by migrating birds. Others, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International, argue that there is strong evidence to suggest the poultry trade plays a large role in the spread of bird flu.

How do you catch bird flu?

It is very unlikely to catch the virus unless you have been in close contact with infected birds or someone with confirmed or suspected bird flu. The virus is found in secretions from the eyes and respiratory tract, and droppings of infected birds. Humans can catch the virus by inhaling droplets sneezed by infected birds or the dust from their bedding or droppings.

In my opinion, it appears the H1N1 virus has already mutated.  Consequently, it's doubtful humans will ever be completely ahead of the risk for a bird flu epidemic. Unfortunately, because the Ebola virus was not attacked with the same ferocity as H1N1, the world still can't destroy the source of this deadly disease, while it continues to spread.

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