Avian influenza (Bird flu) is an infectious disease of birds, caused by an Influenza Type A virus. Pigs sometimes also carry the virus. In birds, the infection can cause symptoms ranging from mild illness to death. Waterfowl (e.g. wild ducks) are the natural hosts of the virus and they are usually more resistant to infection. However, in other birds, particularly domestic poultry such as chickens and turkeys, fatal epidemics of the disease can spread quickly.
l How does it spread?
The virus is present in the secretions and droppings of infected birds. They excrete large amounts of the virus in their droppings, which can contaminate food, soil and drinking water.
The virus can spread by mechanical means (e.g. on contaminated bodies, equipment, vehicles, cages, food and clothing) and can survive in the environment for some time.
Susceptible birds become infected when they inhale contaminated airborne particles or ingest the virus (e.g. by eating food contaminated with an infected birds droppings).
One gram of contaminated manure can contain enough virus to infect a million birds.
l Can it infect people?
Although avian influenza does not normally affect humans, some have become infected and some have died as a result. The main route of infection is considered to be through direct contact with infected poultry or through contact with surfaces contaminated by their faeces (e.g. surfaces used to slaughter poultry or prepare them for cooking).
Scientists have been monitoring avian influenza subtype H5N1 since 1997, when it caused the death of six people in Hong Kong. Since then, H5N1 has killed people in several countries.
Thefirst suspected cases of person-to-person transmission occurred in February 2004. So far, the ability of avian influenza to spread from person to person seems limited.
However, there is great concern that the virus could mutate or combine with a human influenza virus to form a new pandemic flu virus that spreads rapidly from person to person.
Since humans would have no immunity against this new virus, it could quickly spread around the world with devastating effects.
In humans, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza responsible for the recent outbreaks has caused effects ranging from typical flu-like symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and in others, life-threatening complications and death.
l How can we control it?
Quarantining farms and destroying infected birds helps prevent spread to other farms and birds.
Since the virus can live for a long time in the environment, stringent hygiene is necessary to prevent transmission via equipment and surfaces contaminated with body fluids from infected birds.
Rapid culling of infected birds can help avert an epidemic, but workers must protect themselves with protective clothing and dispose of carcasses carefully.
When outbreaks of avian influenza occur, you should avoid contact with infected birds and avoid settings where the disease is likely to spread, such as bird markets and poultry yards.
l Protecting yourself
Good hygiene is one way that you can help protect yourself and your family from a wide range of infections. If a flu pandemic occurs, good hygiene will be essential.
If an outbreak of avian influenza or pandemic flu occurs, local health authorities and the World
HealthOrganisation will issue specific infection control advice. This advice should be strictly followed.
Thorough and frequent hand washing is an important method of preventing infections. Washing your hands with soap and water removes germs from your skin and helps reduce the risk of disease.
Always wash your hands after using the toilet, before handling food and especially after handling birds, poultry and eggs.
To reduce the risk of germs spreading through respiratory secretions, cover your mouth and nose with a paper tissue when coughing or sneezing. Put used tissues in the bin and wash your hands after contact with respiratory secretions.
Food and kitchen hygiene
Cooking destroys germs, but you need to cook your food thoroughly (especially poultry). Avoid cross-contamination by;
* keeping raw food away from cooked and ready to eat food
* using a separate chopping board and knife for raw foods
* cleaning and disinfecting surfaces used to prepare food (especially poultry) immediately before and after use.
Surfaces that you often touch (e.g. taps and toilet flushes) are hotspots for germs, so disinfect them frequently. If a surface is contaminated with body fluids (e.g. nasal secretions, faeces), disinfect it immediately to stop germs spreading.
l Dettol and avian influenza
In laboratory tests,Dettol Liquid inactivates more than 99.9% of the H5N1 virus. Dettol Liquid and many other Dettol products have also been shown to inactivate H1N1, a closely related strain.
We believe that using Dettol products to wash hands and disinfect surfaces should help to reduce the transmission of avian flu via surface contact.
In the event of an outbreak however, it is important that you follow your health authority's recommendations.