Avian influenza is a highly contagious disease of birds, which is currently epidemic amongst poultry in Asia. Exposure to infected poultry and their feces or dust/soil contaminated with feces can result in human infection…
- Avian influenza was first identified over 100 years ago during an outbreak in Italy. Since then, the disease has cropped up at irregular intervals in all world regions. In addition to the current outbreak in Asia, recent epidemics have occurred in Hong Kong in 1997-1998 and 2003, in the Netherlands in 2003, and in the Republic of Korea in 2003;
- once domestic birds are infected, avian influenza outbreaks can be difficult to control and often cause major economic impacts for poultry farmers in affected countries, since mortality rates are high and infected fowl generally must be destroyed - the technical term is ‘culled’ - in order to prevent the spread of the disease; (1)
- as a result of the ongoing outbreak in Asia, FAO estimates that around 20-25 million birds had been culled in the region as of 28 January 2004. This figure accounts for less than 1% of the region's total inventories, FAO data show;
- however, the impact can be devastating to local economies and to both commercial poultry operations and smallholders - particularly in Thailand, where the industry is heavily reliant on trade. In 2003, poultry exports from Thailand accounted for nearly 7% of global poultry meat trade, with an export value of approximately US$1 billion;
- avian influenza poses serious human health risks as well. It is a zoonotic illness - native in animal populations, but capable of being passed to humans via direct contact with infected birds. But even during serious outbreaks the virus rarely affects large numbers of people. Still, as the number of infected people increases, so too does the possibility that a new virus strain might evolve from an exchange between human influenza and avian flu genomes.
(1) The mortality rate for infected domestic fowl ranges from 50 to 100%.