Avian influenza, sometimes avian flu, and commonly bird flu, refers to “influenza caused by viruses adapted to birds.” Of greatest concern is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
“Bird flu” is a phrase similar to “ Swine flu” , “Dog flu,” Horse flu” or “Human flu” in that it refers to an illness caused by any of many different strains of influenza viruses that have adapted to a specific host. All know viruses that cause influenza in birds belongs to the species influenza A virus. All subtypes (but not all strains of all subtypes) of influenza A virus are adapted to birds, which is why for many purposes avian flu virus is the influenza A virus ( note that the “A” does not stand for “avain”).
Adaptation is non-exclusive. Being adapted towards a particular species does not preclude adaptations, or partial adaptations, towards infecting different species. In this way strains of influenza viruses are adapted to multiple species, though may be preferential towards a particular host. For example, viruses responsible for influenza pandemics are adapted to both humans and birds. Recent influenza research into the genes of the Spanish flu virus shows it to have genes adapted to both birds and humans; with more of its genes from birds than less deadly later pandemic strains.
Genetic factors in distinguishing between “human flu viruses” and “avain flu” viruses “include:
· PB: (RNA polymerase): Amino acid (or residue) position 627 in the PB2 protein encoded by the PB2 RNA gene. Until H5N1, all known avian influenza viruses had a Glu at position 627, while all human influenza viruses had a Lys.
· HA: (hemagglutinin) : Avian influenza HA bird alpha 2-3 sialic acid receptors while human influenza HA bind alpha 2-6 sialic acid receptors. Swine influenza viruses have the ability to bind both types of sialic acid receptors. Hemagglutinin is the major antigen of the virus against which neutralizing antibodies are produced and influenza virus epidemics are associated with changes in its antigenic structure. This was originally derived from Pigs, and should technically be referred to as “Pig flue”.
The highly pathogenic influenza A virus subtype H5N1 virus is an emerging avian influenza virus that has been causing global concern as a potential pandemic threat. It is often referred to simply as “Bird flu” or “avian influenza” even though it is only one subtype of avian influenza causing virus.
H5N1 has killed millions of poultry in a growing number of countries throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. Health experts are concerned that the co-existence of human flu viruses and avian flue viruses (especially H5N1) will provide an opportunity for genetic material to be exchanged between species-specific viruses, possibly creating a new virulent influenza strain that is easily transmissible and lethal to humans.
Since the first H5N1 outbreak occurred in 1997, there have been an increasing number of HPAI H5N1 bird-to-human transmissions leading to clinically severe and fatal human infections. However, because there is a significant species barrier that exists between birds and humans, the virus does not easily cross over to humans, though some cases of infection are being researched to discern whether human to human transmission is occurring. More research is necessary to understand the pathogenesis and epidemiology of the H5N1 virus in humans. Exposure routes and other disease transmission characteristics such as genetic and immunological factors, that may increase the likelihood of infection, are not clearly understood.
The avian flu claimed at least 200 humans in Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Romania, China, Turkey and Russian. Epidemiologists are afraid that the next time such a virus mutates, it could pass from human to human. If this form of transmission occurs, another pandemic could result. Thus disease-control centers around the world are making avian flu a top priority. These organizations encourage poultry-related operations to develop a preemptive plan to prevent the spread of H5N1 and its potentially pandemic strains. The recommended plans center on providing protective clothing for workers and isolating flocks to prevent the spread of the virus.