Natures Corner

Intelligence in animals in nature, our backyards, and our homes!

November 14, 2005

A Tragic Side Effect of the Bird Flu Pandemic Paranoia

Susan Clubb DVM

People are becoming fearful of birds. Remember when the singing of birds was soothing to the soul. With the current worldwide paranoia about Avian Flu panic is replacing joy with fear. People are developing an unreasonable and unfounded fear of birds-all birds. A few facts need to be emphasized in order to try to help people understand what is a threat and what is not.

The H5N1-pathogenic avian flu virus has not been found in the United States. The poultry Industry and the USDA are very vigilant to protect US poultry populations and keep our poultry free of Pathogenic avian Influenza.

Pathogenic Avian Influenza is a disease of domestic poultry - not all birds. Effective control must focus on the poultry industry in affected countries. Stringent global monitoring programs including immediate culling and correct disposal of infected poultry flocks are necessary. Every effort must be made to limit the spread of the virus to wild waterfowl.

Avian Flu exists in many strains and is endemic to wild waterfowl such as mallards, but nearly all other varieties of birds have a low incidence of Avian Flu. The presence of Avian Flu in wild waterfowl does not mean that the birds are diseased or that they can spread a virulent form of the virus to poultry or people. The birds that commonly harbor these viruses have developed resistance over many millennia, they rarely suffer illness from Avian Flu viruses. Avian migrations are typically North to South, not from Asia or Europe to the Americas. Insignificant migrations mostly of shorebirds occur from Russia across the Bering Strait into Alaska but these birds are highly unlikely to come into contact with poultry housed outdoors.

The pathogenic Avian flu virus will not enter the US in legally imported birds. Since 1972 all birds imported into the United States undergo mandatory quarantine by The US Department of Agriculture and they are tested for highly pathogenic Avian Influenza virus during quarantine. During that 30-year period, with the entry of many millions of exotic birds, Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus has been found ONLY ONCE in Pekin Robins from China and it was not H5N1. Pathogenic Avian Influenza is an extremely rare disease in pet and exotic birds. Bird’s owners should have NO FEAR of contracting pathogenic avian influenza from pet birds. People who are potentially interested in purchasing birds bred in the United States for pets should have no fear of contracting Avian Influenza.

In Asia, 120 reported cases and 61 fatalities have occurred in 3 years. In this region it is common for millions of people to live in close contact with poultry, with the birds often entering their homes. If a bird becomes ill the family will often slaughter it, clean it and cook it, potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Direct heavy exposure to an infected bird’s body fluids is necessary for transmission to people. A favorite Asian dish is raw duck liver. Millions of domestic birds in Asia have become infected and have been destroyed to control the spread of the virus with only 61 human fatalities in 3 years. The case fatality rate may be skewed by the fact that poor people in rural areas who are most likely to be infected are not likely to seek medical care unless their illness is grave.

Avian Flu viruses rarely, if ever, jump straight to becoming Human Flu viruses. Typically, Avian Influenza must undergo a series of mutations or a large genetic change to acquire the ability of human-to-human transmission. The potential for genetic mutation associated with exchange of genetic information between strains is higher when an animal or human is simultaneously infected with two different strains of influenza. Simultaneous infections of human and bird flu in a pig may be required for the viruses to interchange their genetic information and become both highly infectious to humans and highly pathogenic. This potential exists in Asia where people often keep poultry and pigs around their home. This is the potential that Public Health officials fear. However, these large changes in genetic makeup are just as likely to result genetic changes that make the virus non-pathogenic.

Periodic outbreaks of pathogenic Avian Influenza occur in poultry around the world, including the United States. Since 1997, for example, more than 16 outbreaks of pathogenic Avian Influenza have occurred in poultry within the United States. The virus strains in each of these outbreaks were just as likely as H5N1 to become pathogenic human influenza viruses, yet none of them made the jump from avian virus to human virus. According to CDC records only 2 mild cases of flu have been reported from people in contact with infected poultry during this time.

Influenza viruses do not persist in the environment outside of a host for long periods of time. Under ideal conditions at room temperatures, human flu viruses can remain infective for about one week. Exposure to sunlight drastically reduces the length of time flu viruses can remain infective.

As long as the H5N1 virus does not gain the ability to be transmitted from human to human, its impact on human health will continue to be minimal. However, it is important to eliminate the virus from affected poultry populations to protect both people and birds. Culling of uninfected avian populations will not assist in the control of Avian Influenza.

Because of governmental and media paranoia, wild populations of migrating birds may be culled or disrupted un-necessarily in misguided efforts to control avian influenza. These actions could result in the needless deaths of millions of birds and could endanger species.

If pathogenic-human to human transmitted avian influenza does enter the US it will be by entry of infected humans, not by infected birds. As in the 2003 outbreak of SARS in Canada, an infected international traveler introduced the disease and subsequent cases occurred in exposed health care workers. This outbreak was brought under control by diligent Public Health response and monitoring of travelers for signs of illness (fever).

Media reports about Bird Flu have created an unreasonable state of fear that can be detrimental to birds and the relationship of people to birds. A rational response is necessary to avoid further deterioration of public perception.

Americans should not be afraid of
Pet birds

Feeding wild birds in their backyards

Visiting zoos

Visiting parks where they may contact wild birds

Migrating birds

Going to pet stores

Taking their birds to a veterinarian

Attending bird shows

Eating poultry products

Transporting birds on airplanes

Legal importation of exotic birds

Posted by sue at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2005

Sauerkraut A Cure for Bird Flu?

Korean researchers say the way to ward off the threat of avian flu may be sitting right in your kitchen cupboard -- or on the brat you eat during Sunday's Packers game. It's sauerkraut -- and the world's largest manufacturer is right in our own back yard.

The Great Lakes Kraut Company in Bear Creek learned this week that most chickens infected with avian flu recovered after eating ground-up sauerkraut.

The company president says in a way, the news isn't surprising. "We know that sauerkraut is a healthy food to start out with, as it relates to cancer and other diseases," said Ryan Downs.

If the Korean research proves to be accurate, a weekly diet of some of this sauerkraut would help stave off the effects of avian flu.

Great Lakes Kraut's product may be what a lot of us will be eating should an avian flu pandemic break out. While excited over what it could mean for business, Great Lakes is taking a cautious approach.

"We have to give a little more time to make certain this indeed does act as a preventative for avian flu," Downs added.
Downs says the best part is this year's record harvest of 150,000 tons of sauerkraut would be enough to take care of everyone in the United States and Canada.

Grocery stores say as word about this gets out, there's bound to be a run on sauerkraut. "This is going to impact all grocery stores," Mark Anderson at Woodman's Supermarket predicted, "and everyone is going to pull, so we're going to have to get on it right away and get some back stock so we don't run out."

Great Lakes, which makes most brand names, says it's ready to go so stores won't run out.

Posted by sue at 11:16 AM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2005

Bush outlines $7.1 billion flu pandemic strategy

~It is IMPORTANT to remember.. that you need to be in close contact over time, with infected CHICKENS to catch this Flu.. It has NOT mutated to a form, that can be passed from Human to Human. Being prepared for any Flu/Virus is sound Policy.. But we must remember to use our common sence.. there is NOTHING to Panic over..As the President said in his speech today.. "There is NO pandemic virus in this Country.. or in the World right now."

From the AP:
WASHINGTON - President Bush outlined a $7.1 billion strategy Tuesday to prepare for the danger of a pandemic influenza outbreak, saying he wanted to stockpile enough vaccine to protect 20 million Americans against the current strain of bird flu as a first wave of protection.

The president also said the United States must approve liability protection for the makers of lifesaving vaccines. He said the number of American vaccine manufacturers has plummeted because the industry has been hit with a flood of lawsuits.

Bush said no one knows when or where a deadly strain of flu will strike but “at some point we are likely to face another pandemic.”...

Please Read the full story

Posted by sue at 03:06 PM | Comments (1)

October 28, 2005

Tears and threats as parrot owners panic in UK

Many parrot owners are trying to get rid of their birds while others are
being threatened by neighbours as bird flu panic spreads, animal welfare
workers have warned.

Birdline, an organization which rescues dozens of birds every year, said its
phones were ringing off the hook as people pleaded for them to take away
their pets.

Parrot panic is spreading...

Gary Wilcox, founder of Birdline, said: "It's absolutely unbelievable. We
normally get about 10 calls a week but last weekend we
had 102 phone calls from people wanting to give up their birds. It's
ridiculous. We've managed to calm most of them down.

"I had one woman crying her eyes out because she had a six-month-old baby
and she thought the bird was going to kill her baby."

Following the announcement that the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus had been
found in a parrot quarantined in Essex, owners have even received threats
from misinformed neighbours telling them to get rid of their birds.

Mr. Wilcox said: "I've even talked to people with birds whose neighbours are
threatening them and saying 'get rid of your birds, they're going to kill

"People with aviaries in their gardens are getting ominous letters dropped
through the door."

He said some misinformed owners may have already dumped their birds outside.
One rescue centre had already closed its doors and wasn't taking any more
birds in, he said.

Mr. Wilcox and others are trying to stop panic spreading among owners by
using internet forums. He said: "Even if H5N1 does come here if they keep
their bird inside it's all right. People are not getting the information
they need and we have to stop misinformation and panic."

An estimated 20 million cage birds are kept in Britain, including more than
a million parrots and related species.

Posted by sue at 02:58 PM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2005

Is the US/UK far behind? Killing our Parrots....

Residents of Abu Dhabi must get rid of all pet birds or chickens they may be keeping in their homes, health authorities said yesterday. Concerned authorities such as the municipality and environment agencies have advised residents to either kill their pets, eat the chickens, or hand over the pet birds to the municipality which will have them destroyed... Chickens should be killed as soon as possible. The measures form part of steps being taken against bird flu. The municipality will soon inspect homes of residents to ensure that there are no pet birds or live poultry, civic officials said. Inspections have already begun in some parts of the emirates and soon will be carried out at a wider scale as part of the UAE's emergency plan to prevent the spread of bird flu. High demand delays vaccine delivery The health ministry is planning to immunise the entire UAE population against avian flu and has requested 3 million vaccines worth Dh28 million to fight the growing menace. The shipment of vaccines, however, will be delayed and is expected to arrive only after three months. The delay is due to the huge demand for the vaccine from all over the world.

Posted by sue at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

No nation properly prepared for bird flu: US

No nation is prepared for a bird flu pandemic, the U.S. health secretary said on Monday, while the world health watchdog warned Europe against focusing on itself at the expense of Asia, the ground zero of any major outbreak. U.S. Health Secretary Mike Leavitt was speaking on a trip to Southeast Asia, a region where more than 60 people have died from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza and the most likely epicenter of any human pandemic. "It would be my assessment that no nation is adequately prepared for a pandemic avian flu," Leavitt said after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "(However) I believe that most nations are improving and preparation is increasing." Concern has swept Europe in recent days after tests confirmed the disease in poultry in Romania and Turkey... Croatia has started testing dead birds found by citizens for possible avian flu -- a sign of growing anxiety in the former Yugoslav republic, where no cases have been reported so far. Other European countries were also testing dead birds. No human cases have been reported in Europe, but the World Health Organization said it was worried European countries might divert funding and attention away from Southeast Asia. "There's a lot of anxiety (in Europe)," said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO in Manila. "Quite clearly, the result of this could be that governments might focus on domestic preparedness and forget the fact that ground zero is Southeast Asia." Swiss pharmaceuticals company Roche is donating packs of its anti-influenza drug Tamiflu to Turkey and Romania, the Wall Street Journal paper reported on Monday in its online edition. Cordingley said the feared mutation of the virus into a form that is easily transmitted between humans was most likely to take place in Southeast Asia, where millions of birds have been culled in an attempt to limit the disease's spread. The H5N1 strain first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997, when it caused the death or destruction of 1.5 million birds. Eighteen people fell ill, of whom six died. It re-emerged in 2003 in South Korea, and has now spread to China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Turkey and Romania. H5N1 has infected 117 people in four countries and killed 60, according to the WHO. "SPARK IN A FOREST" Leavitt, who has said fighting the disease at the farm level was a top priority, said surveillance was vital. "If one thinks of the world as though it were a vast forest, if there is a spark in the forest and you are there to see it, you are able to simply snuff it out," Leavitt said. "However if it's allowed to burn for an hour or two hours, it often becomes uncontainable. The only thing possible then is to try to move people or assets out of its way." Earlier, Jakarta's Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said the United States would help Indonesia with laboratory upgrades, but was worried about urban concentrations of chickens. In the past week, Leavitt has travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to get information on the virus. The United States has pledged $25 million to the region for training, supplies, lab equipment, village-based surveillance systems and public education. British experts from the body that discovered the flu virus in 1933 will travel to southeast Asia to boost global cooperation on fighting bird flu and other new infections, the Medical Research Council said on Monday. The fight against bird flu in Asia is being hampered by huge differences in wealth between countries, experts say. Some countries still have no stockpiles of the expensive anti-viral drugs that could help limit a human pandemic and have poor public health infrastructure.

Posted by sue at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)