Avian Influenza - General Information
What is Avian Influenza ?
Avian influenza or 'bird flu' is a highly contagious disease of birds, caused by influenza A viruses. In birds, whilst some strains of the virus may only result in mild illness and low mortality, other strains are highly contagious with a near 100% fatality rate.
All bird species are thought to be susceptible to avian influenza. Migratory birds such as wild ducks and geese can carry the viruses, often without any symptoms of illness, and show the greatest resistance to infection. Domestic poultry flocks, however, are particularly vulnerable to epidemics of a rapid, severe and fatal form of the disease.
History of Avian flu
Avian influenza is not new; it first appeared in Italy more than 100 years ago (around 1878). The last outbreak of avian influenza in Great Britain was in 1991.
How is bird flu spread?
Transmission is by direct contact with sick and dead or dying infected birds or infected bird products (principally droppings and respiratory secretions). Pigs may also carry or transmit the virus. As the virus can remain viable in contaminated droppings for long periods, it can be spread among birds, and from birds to other animals, through ingestion or inhalation. It is likely that infection can spread from surfaces, dust, etc freshly contaminated with such bird products. There have been no recorded cases of avian flu being passed from human to human therefore only those in direct contact with the carrier species (birds, poultry and pigs) have contracted the disease. This has tended to be those keeping or slaughtering poultry.
The disease cannot be contracted from eating chicken. Chicken should be cooked thoroughly to avoid illness from common food poisoning bacteria, such as Salmonella.
Transmitted from birds, poultry and pigs to humans, the onset of disease is usually within 3 - 5 days of exposure, with symptoms similar to common flu but with a 50% fatality rate.
Will bird flu cause a Pandemic?
A pandemic occurs when a new, highly infectious form of a flu virus is formed which can rapidly infect a large number of people. The result is an illness that rapidly spreads round the world and may cause widespread loss of life. An example is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 which caused an estimated 40-50 million deaths worldwide.
There have been no confirmed cases of person-to-person spread of bird flu. The only people who have contracted the disease are those that have had direct contact with infected birds.
In its current form avian flu could not cause a pandemic because it can only be spread from carrier species to humans. However there is concern that the disease may mutate and become transmissible from human to human, thereby posing a threat of a pandemic.
What would happen if avian flu reached the UK?
- The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would take the lead and could restrict movement and sales and place exclusion zones around infected birds.
- Advice may be issued to isolate poultry - keep poultry quarantined in buildings.
- Alternatively poultry may be culled.
- Human Vaccines would be developed (the exact strain has to be identified and appropriate vaccines developed).
What are we doing to prepare for Avian flu?
Planning for Avian influenza forms part of Cotswold District Council’s (CDC) general Disease and Pandemic Contingency Planning.
Any response to a pandemic will be primarily led by the Health Authorities and the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) have drafted response plans. Whilst the Health Authority takes the lead on this issue, CDC must comply with any requests from them for assistance.
The Gloucestershire Local Resilience Forum's multi-agency flu pandemic group has developed county-wide Generic Response Plans to address issues which may arise during a pandemic, such as fuel shortages, increased number of deaths, continuation of essential services etc. which will require involvement from the emergency services, County and District Councils.
Cotswold District Council has produced Business Continuity Plans for the Council’s Services, considering the effects of staff absences and prioritizing those services, which must be maintained.
For further information on Avian Influenza you may find the following links useful:
Department of Health
(General information about flu and pandemics)
Health Protection Agency
Cotswold District Council, Trinity Road, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 1PX
Tel: 01285 623 442
Fax: 01285 623 910