avian flu question

advance apologies for being a bit paranoid.

i have heard rumors that the avian flu has made its way into the usa, on the east coast. i can’t find anything online and was just wondering about the danger. from what i’ve read, in asia it kills pretty much every person who gets it, and thus i figure if it really was in the us, i’d have seen some sort of news. (no tv though, so we’re generally a bit behind).

also, anybody know how transmissible the disease really is to humans, and exactly how it is transmitted? for example, would a person be less likely to catch it during routine feeding and care than during slaughter? can just being around a sick bird make you ill, or more importantly, is the disease transmissible when the bird does not yet appear sick?

complicating the issue, and making it more pertinent i guess, is the fact that i live and work on a 300-head poultry farm that i co-own. not sure whether to cut our losses and slaughter all of them ahead of a possible outbreak or what. we have 5 kids between us and from what i’ve read, the disease isn’t too forgiving to children.


Don’t cull your chickens yet. First, the form of avian virus found in Delaware is not the same strain as the kind that is responsible for the some of the outbreaks in Asia. It is not easily transmissible to humans, and in the rare times that it does infect humans, the outcome is mild (pink eye and some respiratory complications).

It is, however, highly transmissible in poultry, and thus is the reason why the poultry farm where it was found destroyed their flocks. Surveillance is being conducted in the farms surrounding the outbreak site, but it sounds like they may have contained it.

Here’s a ProMed report - you can keep track of outbreaks through email notification from them. You may also want to contact your local extension agent for more information. They might give you information about best farming practices, such as these to prevent high pathogenic avian flu outbreaks (which should also reduce the risk of low pathogenic avian flu).

Here is some more information about the highly pathogenic form from the World Health Organization. Again, this is NOT the strain that was found in Delaware. But keeping an eye on any strain of avian influenza is worthwhile since strains can mutate to more pathogenic forms. Please note that while even the more pathogenic forms are not generally easily transmissible to humans, the potential for a pandemic is there and this is the reason why the major health organizations are keeping a close eye on the situation.

I tried to find a drawing for you so that I can explain this a bit better, and I’m sure it’s more than you need to know, but I think a little background is necessary. If you look at this site http://www.synapses.co.uk/science/fluvirus.html down where it says "antigenic shift, you’ll see what the problem is with avian flu.

All true flu viruses are orthomyxoviruses. Birds have their own flu virus-strain, as do most animals. Generally the viruses aren’t contagious to other species. So if you dog gets the flu you can’t catch it. However, both birds and humans (and pigs) have eight discrete “packets” of genetic material and one of these packets can “jump” into another virus causing dramatic genetic changes. These changes can make the virus far more virulent than either of its parents.

Usually the “jump” occurs when humans live in very close quarters with their livestock. This puts both the human and avian virus in close contact allowing them to swap genes. This is why so may flu pandemics originate in Asia, where a high portion of their populace lives with their animals.

What we have now in the US is avian flu. In other words, we have birds with the flu. They are asking that the birds be destroyed to prevent a “jump” in the genetic material. However, the orthomyxovirus strain found in China and that in the US are different strains. So we basically have two different flus in two different populations of birds.

Now that I have totally not answered any of your questions I’ll start.

Bird flu is not transmissible to humans. However as stated above your flu’s genes and theirs can intermingle. That strain, if the genetic material jumps into the human orthomyxovirus could be conferred to humans, and could be deadly.

The disease would probably be more contagious during feeding if you doing that in an confined area, where you are likely to breath in their aerosol… Flu is generally more easily transmitted though aerosol than through bodily fluids. There are only a few ways you can catch a virus through bodily fluid contact. I suggest that you use precautions when slaughtering. Safety glasses, gloves, and a mask, at least during the times when there is contact with blood wouldn’t hurt.

Most viruses can be transmitted before symptoms appear. So yes the bird could have the flu before you knew it was even sick.

Personally, I would keep the birds until I was aware of an outbreak in the area, or was ordered to destroy them, but that’s just me.

As for your children; it would be prudent to keep them away from the bird when they are in confined areas, or during the slaughter. Children are generally more susceptible to new viral strains, but if we get a genetic shift, everyone will be at risk.

Sorry about the length. Hope this helps.