The How bird flu works.


How does bird flu work?

An outbreak of bird flu in Eastern Europe during 2005, which then spread to Africa in 2006, caused a huge public panic that bird flu was going to become a pandemic and that many people in the world were going to die from the disease. This panic seems to be well-deserved. After all, bird flu did take the lives of half of the people that contracted the disease once the outbreak hit. But although bird flu has still been in the news over the past few years, it definitely hasn’t taken to the headlines like it did back in 2005. So, was all the worry really necessary, or was it just an unfortunate outbreak? And will bird flu come back to be an epidemic or a pandemic? If it does, is the human population in danger? Here we’ll answer all of these questions for you as we find out just how bird flu works.

Viruses, The Flu, and Bird Flu

In order to understand bird flu, or avian flu, one must first be able to understand how viruses and the seasonal flu works. A virus is actually a pocket that’s invisible to the human eye. Inside that pocket is genetic material that’s encased in protein. Viruses on their own however, cannot reproduce themselves. In order to multiply their numbers, they need to invade host cells and destroy them. It’s this invasion and destruction of cells that causes people to get sick. The flu, or influenza, is a virus that attacks the respiratory system. There are many symptoms but some of them are: fever, sore throat, congestion, body aches, and chills.

When it comes to the flu, there are three different types of viruses: types A, B, and C. These types of viruses have many subtypes of different viruses within them and even within these subtypes, there are many different strains of the flu. The flu virus can also mutate itself in two different forms. The first kind of mutation is small and makes minor changes to the virus. However, the virus still falls within the same type and subtype that it was originally. A major change can also occur. These changes can cause the virus to actually become completely different than it was originally, and can force it to change into another subtype of the flu.

In total, a flu virus has eight different segments. However, a segment from one type of a flu virus can connect with another to form an entirely different form of the flu. Experts actually believe that the most fatal forms of the flu came about when a human flu virus connected with an avian flu virus, causing it to form a new and potentially fatal flu virus.

Avian flu is a type A flu. Within this type, birds can carry every single subtype. However, when experts talk about avian flu, they are usually referring only to the subtypes that occur mostly, or only, in birds. Generally, birds cannot pass on the flu to humans. Pigs and other animals are most likely to first become infected with avian flu, and that flu virus will mutate into another subtype of flu that can be transmitted to humans. When wild birds contract the avian flu, it usually doesn’t make them sick. They simply expel it in their droppings. However, domestic birds can contract the virus from contaminated water, food, and soil, and they can become quite ill. Birds, whether they are wild or domestic, can also contract the avian flu through saliva, droppings, and respiratory secretions.

Bird flu can either be low pathogenic or high pathogenic. What type of bird flu it is doesn’t really matter when referring to wild birds, because they don’t generally get sick from the bird flu anyway. But when talking about domestic birds, the difference is huge. Types of avian flu that are low pathogenic don’t produce a lot of symptoms and the birds probably won’t become very sick. Ruffled feathers and a slower egg production are really the only signs that a bird is suffering from a low pathogenic avian flu. However, if the type of flu is high pathogenic, almost 100% of birds will die from it. And the birds that do survive this type of flu continue to expel the virus in their droppings for as long as ten days after they have recovered. This of course, spreads the virus even further.

In order to protect their birds and humans both from contracting the avian flu from an infected bird, they follow many biosecurity measures. This includes disinfecting things such as their shoes, their clothes, and of course, the farm equipment. And as soon as a farmer suspects that a bird has been infected with the virus, they will place them in quarantine away from all other birds. However, farmers aren’t just trying to protect their birds with these practices, they’re also trying to protect the people around them. When a human contracts avian flu, it’s known as H1N5. This virus is especially deadly to humans because we have absolutely no immunity to it, meaning that our body has no way to fight it off.


It was in 1997 that the first strain of avian flu hit humans in the world and it hit in Hong Kong. This was remarkable because it was the first time that it was ever reported that the avian flu had traveled straight from birds to humans without first going through another animal. Along with the usual symptoms that are presented by the flu, this strain of avian flu also caused eye infections, pneumonia, and respiratory problems. After a few humans that were sick with the illness were tested, it was determined that the virus was type A H1N5, a type of flu that was unknown to humans prior to this outbreak.

In Hong Kong, eighteen people in total were infected and six people died. The Hong Kong government became so concerned about the outbreak that they killed the entire poultry population in Hong Kong. A total of 1.5 million birds were killed. Some thought that this was a cruel and unnecessary. But, many experts and scientists say that the Hong Kong government probably stopped a global pandemic from occurring.

After the outbreak in Hong Kong, no one really heard of avian flu again until 2003. It was then that officials in Thailand and Vietnam started to report findings of bird flu in both birds and humans. However, the few humans that were infected with it seemed to have prolonged exposure to birds that had the virus. Because of this, people didn’t really believe that this outbreak of bird flu was a very big threat. However, by the end of 2004, the disease had moved into parts of Indonesia and Cambodia. In these areas, more people contracted the illness than they had in Vietnam and Thailand, and about half of those who did were killed by the disease.

However, it was at this same time too that officials started finding large infections in domestic birds. During the end of 2003 and early 2004, a total of 100 million birds died, either because they died from the disease or because they were killed to prevent the disease. Then when bird flu showed up in parts of Eastern Europe in 2005, it was thought that they were likely migrating birds who had flown in from parts of Asia where infected birds were found. There are still many areas of the world where bird flu is a concern however, areas that have experienced outbreaks have also taken proper and important measures to stop a global pandemic.

Will it Ever be a Pandemic?

There are many different thoughts on bird flu. Some think that it’s a disease that will eventually become a pandemic, and that we should be doing everything we can to prevent that from happening. However, others think that experts and health officials are overreacting to the disease and that it’s never going to be a huge concern for humans. Both arguments are good. After all, the bird flu virus is one that’s potentially life-threatening to people. So, if there’s a case that it could ever become a pandemic, we definitely need to start coming up with some answers. However, with all of the outbreaks combined, millions of birds were killed but only up to 200 people have been infected.

But, there’s definitely good reason for worry. One of those concerns is that the bird flu has the capability of killing people who were perfectly healthy before contracting the disease. Also, because wild birds carry it, and they travel all over the world, it’s difficult to contain the disease to prevent it from spreading. The third, and perhaps biggest, worry is that there’s currently no vaccine for the bird flu. Even though many vaccines are in development, the virus seems to be extremely resistant to anything in the vaccine. It’s believed that one reason for this resistance is that amantadine, which is a medication intended for people, has been used in poultry in China.

Bird flu is really only a huge threat to birds at the moment, especially birds in Asia. This is also where the biggest threat to humans is, as many households in Asia have birds that roam free instead of being kept in a coop or other enclosure. But, another big concern is that, if the disease is not handled properly and stopped, it could mutate into another strain of the flu and that that strain might be much stronger, and much deadlier, than even bird flu. This could then be transferred person to person, and could cause a global pandemic. In fact, many health officials say that a global pandemic of bird flu is actually inevitable. And what’s worse, that the world is completely unprepared for such a thing to happen.

While we may not be as prepared as we should be, the world is also not totally unprepared for a bird flu pandemic. United States, Europe, and several other countries are starting to help the Asian countries that are currently seeing cases of bird flu. Infected birds are still being either quarantined or killed and anyone who handles poultry in these countries are being informed on proper biosecurity measures. More and more people are also getting the seasonal flu vaccine. While the seasonal flu vaccine does nothing to stop the avian flu from infecting a person, it does stop the seasonal flu from infecting a person. This can greatly help if a person becomes infected with the bird flu because it takes away the virus’ chance of meeting with the other virus and mutating into a stronger and more deadly strain of the virus.

Other measures are being taken too. Many animals that come into certain countries after visiting infected countries are being quarantined until officials can be sure that they are not carrying the disease. Many countries have also brought free-range poultry that once resided outside, indoors. The ravens that typically reside at the Tower of London for example, have been brought to an enclosure inside where they can be monitored and kept relatively safe from being infected with the avian flu. Many countries are also starting to ban the import of poultry, in order to prevent the disease from entering the country.

Health officials may be overreacting to bird flu. But, when you consider how easily the disease is spread by birds, and how dangerous it can be to humans that are infected with the disease, one can see that an overreaction is much better than not doing enough, and then having to deal with a global pandemic.

bird flu.

 How bird flu works.