Zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be passed between animals and people, have gotten a great deal of attention in the first part of the twenty-first century.
Thanks to diseases such as avian flu, which came to public attention in late 2003 when outbreaks were reported in Asia.
Ten countries reported outbreaks in 2004, and fifty-five people worldwide contracted the disease from birds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a plan in place to combat avian flu in the event of an outbreak in the United States, and vaccines to combat the disease are under development.
Avian flu is an infectious disease that is caused by Type A strains of the influenza virus.
It infects mostly waterfowl, such as ducks, and it can spread to domestic poultry.
Wild birds worldwide may be carriers of avian flu. Carrier birds often do not show signs of illness, but they shed the virus through their droppings, nasal secretions, or saliva.
Avian flu is of particular concern to poultry farmers in the United States.
Since 1997, about sixteen outbreaks of avian flu have been reported on U.S. poultry farms.
These outbreaks were classified as low pathogenic, which means few birds became ill or died.
This is in direct contrast to the cases reported in Asia between December 2003 and February 2004, when thousands of birds became ill or were euthanized to stop the spread of the disease.
So, the question remains, can humans get avian flu from birds?
Humans can catch avian flu from birds as there have been a few cases of human infection with these viruses. However, avian flu rarely infects humans.
There has been a range of severity in human illness caused by bird flu virus infections, from no symptoms to severe disease that has resulted in death.
To date, Asian lineage H7N9 and highly pathogenic avian influenza Asian lineage H5N1 viruses have caused the majority of human illnesses worldwide from bird flu viruses, including the deadliest and most serious illnesses.
Symptoms of avian flu in people can range from the typical flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches, to eye infection, pneumonia, and other life-threatening complications.
Clinical signs in birds can vary, from birds that show no signs of illness to any of the following: lack of energy and appetite, decreased egg production, soft-shelled or misshapen eggs, nasal discharge, sneezing, a lack of coordination, and loose droppings.
Let me emphasize that it is extremely unlikely that your parakeet is a carrier of avian flu or that you could catch avian flu from your pet.
Avian flu is a greater concern for poultry farmers and bird breeders than it is for the average pet bird owner.
How Does Bird Flu Spread to Humans
Bird flu spread to humans when such a person comes in contact with the droppings of infected birds or with the birds themselves.
The bird flu virus is shed by infected birds through their saliva, mucous, and feces.
Infections with bird flu viruses can occur when the virus enters the eye, nose, or mouth, or if it is inhaled.
A person can get infected by breathing in viruses (in droplets or dust), or by touching something that contains viruses and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
The most common way humans contract bird flu viruses is through unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated with the virus.
However, some infections have been identified where direct contact with infected birds or their environment is not known.
When bird flu viruses have spread from one infected person to close contact, it has only affected a few people.
However, monitoring for human infection and person-to-person spread is extremely important for public health due to the possibility that bird flu viruses could change and become more easily spread between people.