In this blog series, we'll discuss important hot topics in the veterinary field. It's important to be aware of the current veterinary news. They’ll help you shine if you discuss them during vet school interviews. Plus, they're great conversations to have with veterinarians when you're on work experience.
In this blog post, we will explore what avian influenza is, why it has become such a problem, what the UK government is doing to manage it, and its effect on farmers.
Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, a highly contagious and potentially fatal virus that affects birds, specifically poultry. The virus has become a major threat to the health many bird species, especially domesticated chickens, and turkeys. Avian influenza has been spreading rapidly around the world in recent years, causing serious health and economic issues, particularly among farmers and poultry producers.
There are two types of avian influenza. Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). It's important to differentiate the two as it influences how the case is managed. For the interest of this blog, we will focus on HPAI as the disease is more severe and known to spread rapidly. Humans also get influenza; think of the common cold it's caused by an influenza virus. There's a risk avian influenza could be a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that spread from an animal host to the human species. Once the virus establishes in the human population there's a risk it can spread amongst our species. Thankfully, this isn't the case as of now but as the disease multiplies, there's a risk it could mutate to act in this way.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) is a government agency that has been given the responsibility to enforce laws to help prevent, detect, and contain the virus. Examples of relevant rules involve for bird keepers to register their holdings, maintaining good biosecurity and complying with disease control measures. The UK is a part of European Union’s Early Warning and Response System (EWRS). This system will facilitate a rapid and effective response to disease outbreaks. Upon suspicion of a case the APHA will place containment zones around the farm. These are divided into surveillance zones, restriction zones and prevention zones. Each zone has set regulations poultry holders must adhere too. A full description of what each regulation entails can be found on the GOV.UK website.
When avian influenza outbreaks occur, poultry farms are forced to destroy entire flocks of infected birds in order to contain the spread of the virus. This means that farmers suffer significant monetary losses, as well as land losses due to the destruction of their farm buildings. In addition, farmers must bear the cost of cleaning and disinfecting the affected areas, as well as the cost of testing their surviving birds. The destruction of infected flocks also has a negative effect on the global food supply chain, causing prices of poultry products to rise. For example, you may have noticed how difficult it's been to buy eggs at the supermarket recently. This has a knock-on effect on farmers, who must pay more for their own poultry products and services.
Veterinarians have an important role in outbreak control and disease spread. You may be aware that the APHA has its own veterinarians. They are employed to go out to suspected outbreak farms to assess the situation and place necessary control measures. Poultry veterinarians work to manage biosecurity on the farm. Biosecurity is the prevention of disease-causing agents entering or leaving a place where they can pose a risk to other animals, humans or the safety and quality of the food product.
To conclude, avian influenza is a serious threat to birds, as well as to human health. The UK government has implemented measures to reduce the spread of avian influenzas, such as restricting the movement of poultry and monitoring for signs of disease. This has helped protect farmers from losses due to avian influenza, and veterinarians play an important role in monitoring and managing the disease. It is important that we all take steps to reduce the risk of avian influenza and help protect our feathered friends.
Written by: Rahat Chowdhury
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