The extremely contagious poultry disease known as Avian Influenza or Bird Flu continues to infect bird populations across the globe. The influenza viruses are found commonly in wild aquatic birds and infect domestic poultry as well as other animal and bird species, although they seldom impact humans. Despite the fact that the risk to humans is currently very minimal, scientists are worried about mutations in light of the discovery of the avian flu virus in other species.
There have been around 800 incidences of human infection with the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus across 18 countries recently. The subtypes H5, H7, and H9 of the avian influenza virus were responsible for these epidemics in people, resulting in mild respiratory tract illnesses. One such incident was reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) about a nine-year-old girl who was exposed to backyard poultry. She was hospitalized and kept in isolation, and treated with antiviral medication. Unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces polluted with bird flu viruses; their penetration into eyes, nose, or mouth has been linked to human infections. However, it is necessary to point out that there have been cases where there was no known direct contact with infected birds or their environment. Also, the infection was not transmitted from eating contaminated cooked poultry or eggs as heat eliminates the presence of these viruses. More than a dozen strains of bird flu are known to mankind. They are classified into "low pathogenic" or "highly pathogenic," depending upon their ability to spread and kill the bird species.
Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes if you come into contact with birds or surfaces that may be covered in the saliva, mucus, or droppings of wild or domestic birds and poultry to prevent contracting the infection. It is advised to change into clean clothing after handling poultry, and wash your hand with water and soap thoroughly. Tools and equipment need to be disinfected, too. Owing to their high standards of personal hygiene while handling birds, Australians have a relatively lower risk of catching any infection from the Avian Influenza viruses. The way animals are farmed for their meat and dairy and the way these farms are designed have a great impact to avoid virus transmissions. In recent years, farmers have upped biosecurity measures for the protection of their flocks. They are investing in preventive strategies like the use of laser light systems to prevent migratory birds from landing on their farms.
The H5N1 influenza vaccine has been authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration to protect against avian influenza infection. Although this vaccine isn't accessible to the general population, the American government has reserved this vaccine and will give it out in the event of an outbreak. However, this vaccine can be administered early on in an outbreak to offer a minimal level of protection until a different vaccine is developed and produced on a large scale to protect against the specific type of virus causing the outbreak. To prevent and treat infection, the avian influenza vaccines contain antiviral drugs, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). These drugs are used to treat and prevent influenza A and B, respectively. By attaching themselves to neuraminidase inhibitors (anti-viral agents), these medications stop the virus from exiting its host cell and spreading to the neighboring cells. The market for vaccines against avian influenza was estimated to be worth USD 125 million in 2021 and is anticipated to grow to USD 200 million by 2030. This growth can be attributed to the growing number of illnesses in developing nations and the increasing healthcare spending, especially in developed countries.
More than 1000 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus detections were recorded between March and June 2022 in 28 EU/EEA nations. France has been the most severely impacted, accounting for ~68% of all recent occurrences, while Hungary experienced ~24% of instances. In nations that had seen a seasonal drop in the number of outbreaks in the warmer months of 2022, there were more and more cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus infection in wild and domestic birds as the fall season approached.
Avian influenza is an international concern with ramifications for both animal and human health. Animal-borne influenza viruses have the potential to evolve and infect humans. The immune system of humans might not be able to protect against viruses that previously only affected animals, resulting in grave health concerns. Healthcare providers, the scientific community, governments, pharmaceutical companies, and the Food and drug administration in poultry processing need to work in unison to come up with robust solutions to combat this deadly disease. In the meanwhile, if you have recently been to a location where bird flu was prevalent and you have started experiencing flu-like symptoms, consult your doctor right away.