Dirty Birds: Avian Flu is Back and Mutating

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    Raising chickens is a great part of any survival plan. These birds can be purchased for very little expense and are in large part self-sufficient if allowed to free range, leaving you with only a small feed bill. Depending on breed selection, meat birds can be table ready in just a few months. If you prefer eggs, chickens can provide you with a steady supply of those as well. If you have the space and inclination, there really is not much reason not to establish a nice little flock of chickens for survival purposes. Though hearty, the chicken is not free from health issues, some of which can pose great danger to the entire flock and to humans as well, such as in the case of various, mutating strains of bird flu.

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    Photo: US China Press

    Back in 2003, the H5N1 Avian Flu ran rampant, infecting and decimating domestic poultry populations in Asia and the Middle East. Though it is not typical for this virus to infect people, it is also not impossible. More than 600 cases of human infection have been present in a total of 15 counties since the first outbreak. Of those infected, approximately 60% perished. H5N1 was classified as highly pathogenic amongst poultry and was transmitted from sick or dead birds to humans, but could not be passed from one human to another.

    Fast forward 10 years down the road and a new threat emerged that was known as Avian Influenza A H7N9 Virus. It appeared in 2013 in poultry in China and some evidence shows possible spread from one human to another as well as via infected poultry, be it ill or dead. Numbers of those infected did start to taper off temporarily but it wasn't long before they were on the rise again, with 212 of the 571 infected passing away. At this time, the virus is said to have pandemic potential due to the tendency of influenza to mutate and become easily spread amongst humans. Once this happens, the virus will meet minimal resistance as it breaks free of China's borders and makes its way around the globe.

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    Photo: Health Fitness Info

    It is easier to sleep at night with viruses such as this being far, far away, but it becomes tougher to get that same level of shut-eye once they are on United States soil. Unfortunately there are problems brewing here at home as well. The H5N2 strain of Avian Influenza is nothing new in wild bird populations but it presents a dire situation upon coming into contact with commercial poultry. It takes mere days to decimate a flock which has happened already, infecting farms in Minnesota, Missouri, and Arkansas with samples testing positive in Kansas.

    According to The World Health Organization, it is possible for avian influenza viruses to survive in contaminated, raw poultry. Once meat and eggs are cooked properly, the chance of transmission is unlikely, but the extent to which the H5N2 strain can and will impact humans is still not known. A logical question to ask when it comes to viruses such as these with pandemic potential is how it is able to spread from seemingly confined farms. The answer in large part comes in the form of wild, migratory birds which are less likely to fall victim to such viruses but are capable of spreading them. The U.S. farms infected with H5N2 are all located near to what is called the Mississippi flyway, a popular route taken by migratory birds and a logical explanation for the introduction of this virus in such areas. Though the birds travelling on this route may not actually come into contact with commercially farmed poultry, all it takes is equipment or clothing to become contaminated and come into contact with poultry for the infection to begin as the virus is shed through saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.

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    Photo: Security FAQs

    With this in mind, those of us who raise poultry need to be especially vigilant, especially those located along migratory bird routes. Should your flock become infected, they will likely face extermination at your hand or that of the disease in order to stop the spread, possibly compromising your own health in the meantime. Though some birds such as ducks may exhibit no signs of infection, chickens can present with the following symptoms:
    • Discoloration or swelling of comb, wattles, eyelids, head, and hocks
    • Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing
    • Lethargy and lack of coordination
    • Soft or oddly shaped eggs as well as egg production decrease
    • Lack of appetite
    • Diarrhea
    • Sudden death
    If you suspect infection of your flock, immediate quarantine of animals is necessary along with contacting appropriate authorities. In the event you suspect infection of yourself, seek medical care immediately but take care to inform providers of your situation prior to arrival should quarantine be necessary. Human infection presents as follows:
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Conjunctivitis
    • Muscle aches
    • Respiratory distress
    • Pneumonia
    With all of this in mind, what are your plans to combat a virus that can be acquired through such a popular food source as poultry? Do you feel that thorough cooking is enough or are you still wary? Is travel abroad becoming more of a frightening concept due to the ability to be infected by not only human illness but now also that of birds? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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