What you need to know about avian flu

An outbreak of the deadly virus has forced the euthanasia of nearly a quarter of a million ducks and laying hens.|

Outbreaks of the deadly avian flu virus have been detected at two Sonoma County poultry operations near Petaluma, forcing the euthanasia of nearly a quarter of a million ducks and laying hens.

Here’s what to know about avian flu.

What is avian flu?

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a disease caused by Type A influenza viruses commonly found in bird populations.

How does it spread?

Avian flu viruses occur around the world and are commonly spread among aquatic birds, especially during seasonal migrations. It spreads directly through airborne transmission but can also be transmitted when fecal matter from an infected bird comes in contact with feathers, feed, water or soil. It can also be introduced to poultry populations through contaminated shoes, gloves or equipment.

How serious is it?

Most strains of bird flu are relatively harmless to their natural hosts, and often cause no symptoms. However the virus can mutate into what’s known as highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, which is highly infectious and often deadly. The type that has been detected in Sonoma County has been identified as a highly pathogenic strain.

Is there a risk to humans?

While the disease can be transmitted to humans most avian influenza viruses result in no symptoms or only mild illness. Some strains, however, can potential be fatal to humans, although cases are rare. Humans are typically infected through close contact with infected birds, bodily fluid droplets, or through bird droppings. Wearing goggles and face masks around bird populations can reduce the risk of infection.

What is the impact to the poultry industry?

When avian flu is detected in a commercial poultry operation, state and federal guidelines require that the entire flock be euthanized to prevent the spread. Last year, according to Reuters, more than 47 million birds were lost in outbreaks in 42 states, resulting in higher prices for eggs, chicken, turkey and duck for consumers.

(Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control)

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