Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 on UK wild bird

Subarna Debbarma (BPT, DNHE)
The impact of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 on UK wild bird populations has been profound since its first appearance in Great Skuas during the summer of 2021. Seabirds and waterfowl, in particular, have borne the brunt of its effects. The magnitude of mortalities attributed to HPAI across the UK and Europe in 2022 underscores its emergence as a major conservation threat, especially for seabird species globally significant to the UK. 

A recent report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the British Trust for Ornithology details the findings of surveys conducted in 2023, comparing them with pre-HPAI data to gauge population changes. 

The report reveals alarming declines, such as a 75% decrease in the Great Skua population and a 25% reduction in Northern Gannets, both crucial species for which UK habitats host over half of their populations. These findings highlight the urgent need for concerted conservation efforts to mitigate the impact of H5N1 on vulnerable bird species in the UK.

What is Avian influenza?

Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a contagious viral infection that primarily affects birds. However, certain strains of avian influenza viruses can infect humans and other animals as well. The virus primarily spreads through contact with infected birds or their droppings, and in some cases, through contaminated surfaces.

Catagory of Avian Influenza Viruses

Avian influenza viruses are categorized into different subtypes based on the proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are many subtypes of avian influenza viruses, but the ones of greatest concern for human health are the H5, H7, and H9 subtypes. Among these, the H5N1 and H7N9 subtypes have caused severe illness and deaths in humans.

 How Avian Influenza viruse spread to People?

Avian Influenza
Photo Credits to MaineFlu.Gov

Avian Influenza viruses and Humans

When avian influenza viruses infect humans, they can cause a range of symptoms, from mild respiratory illness to severe respiratory distress, organ failure, and death. The severity of the illness depends on various factors, including the specific strain of the virus and the individual's health and immune status.

Symptoms of Avian Influenza Flu 

Symptoms of Avian Influenza Flu

Preventive Measures of Transmission

Preventive measures to reduce the risk of avian influenza transmission to humans include avoiding contact with sick birds or their droppings, properly cooking poultry and eggs before consumption, practicing good hygiene, and wearing personal protective equipment when handling infected birds or working in high-risk environments.

Efforts to monitor and control avian influenza outbreaks involve surveillance of bird populations, rapid response to outbreaks, vaccination of poultry in affected areas, and public health interventions to limit human exposure to the virus. Additionally, research into antiviral medications and vaccines for humans continues to be a priority in combating avian influenza.

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