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Avian influenza

The big picture

© UNICEF Thailand/2007/Few
‘Bird Flu Busters’ at Baan Noong Wang School in Thailand's Udon Thani Province get children singing and dancing to learn essential messages about keeping safe from the bird flu virus.

H5N1 threatening livelihoods of millions
Avian influenza is a contagious viral disease primarily affecting birds, chicken and other poultry as well as pet birds and wild birds. The disease, which was mostly impacting Asia, has now become endemic and spread to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

The continuing spread of the disease is threatening the livelihoods of millions of poultry and livestock farmers, small business owners and commercial poultry production. It affects regional and international trade and raises the prospect of further economic losses. The rural poor are the hardest hit because of their cohabitation with poultry and their dependence on poultry farming for livelihood. For the world's poor, particularly in Africa, poultry products often are the most important source of protien. Children are especially vulnerable either to infection either in the household or through playing with domestic or other pets. The continuing spread of avian influenza threatens the progress being made in meeting the Millennium Deveopment Goals of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty and combating against communicable diseases.

A virus with pandemic potential
H5N1 is a highly pathogenic strain of the virus with pandemic potential. So far, the spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been extremely rare and there is no general pattern of human-to-human transmission. Humans can get infected through close contact with affected birds, when live birds carrying infection are bought and sold and by contact with bird droppings or dirty equipment.

Trade in live birds and poultry products appear to be the principal cause of the spread of H5N1. However, migratory birds may also play a role propagating the disease. If and when H5N1 virus adapts into a strain that is contagious among humans, it will be a human influenza virus. As long as avian influenza is not controlled, the risk of an imminent human influenza pandemic remains.

Everybody needs to prepare
The impact of a pandemic is hard to predict, but there will be increased illness because humans will have no immunity to the new virus. Mortality rates are likely to be increased and there may be social and economic disruptions.

In some countries, inadequate public health facilities and services pose a major challenge in the case of an outbreak. Children will be directly impacted by infections as well as by the potentially devastating social and economic impacts of a pandemic. Everybody needs to prepare for a possible pandemic.



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