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Bird flu: WHO discuss the size of pandemic outbreak in 1997

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Bird flu, also known as avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds. In rare cases it can affect humans, and that’s what’s happened with the confirmed case in the South West of England today. Concerned about catching avian flu? Here’s everything you need to know, from how it’s transmitted to its symptoms. 

Bird to human transmission of avian flu is very rare and has only occurred a small number of times in the UK previously. 

There are four strains that have caused concern in recent years, H5N1 (since 1997), H7N9 (since 2013), H5N6 (since 2014) and H5N8 (since 2016).

Today, the UK Health Security Agency has confirmed a case of the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which was identified after the Animal and Plant Health Agency found the strain in their flock of birds through routine monitoring. 

The UK has recently seen a large number of outbreaks and incidents of avian influenza in birds across the country of the H5N1 strain and APHA and the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer have issued alerts to bird owners.

The infected person acquired the infection from very close, cordarone in fisiologica regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time.

The infected birds have all been called and all contacts of the individual, including those who visited the premises, have been traced.

According to the UKHSA, there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else and the individual is currently well and self-isolating.

It’s very unlikely that more people will catch bird flu, so it’s not something you need to worry about. 

Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive). This could include touching infected birds, touching infected droppings or bedding, or killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking. 

You can’t catch bird flu through eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas with an outbreak of bird flu.

Professor Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “While the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low, we know that some strains do have the potential to spread to humans and that’s why we have robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.

“Currently there is no evidence that this strain detected in the UK can spread from person to person, but we know that viruses evolve all the time and we continue to monitor the situation closely. We have followed up all of this individual’s contacts and have not identified any onward spread.”

“It remains critical that people do not touch sick or dead birds, and that they follow the DEFRA advice about reporting.”

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If you take the necessary precautions, particularly if travelling to foreign markets where live birds are sold, it’s very unlikely you’ll catch bird flu. 

The UKHSA follows up all individuals who have been in contact with a confirmed case of avian influenza. Those with the highest risk exposures are contacted daily to see if they have developed symptoms so that appropriate action can be taken

Even though you can rest peacefully knowing you probably won’t catch bird flu if you’re not around infected birds, it can’t hurt to know the symptoms. The main symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly and include:

  • a very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath

Other early symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea
  • sickness
  • stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • bleeding from the nose and gums
  • conjunctivitis

The seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect against bird flu, but there are treatments for humans infected with bird flu.

People are offered anti-viral treatment after exposure to infected birds to stop the virus from reproducing in their body if they have picked it up. This should prevent them from becoming unwell.

It also helps reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others. The UKHSA swabs people even if they don’t have symptoms to help surveillance programmes and make sure anyone infected is identified so that action can be taken to control any risk of transmission.

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