Daniel R. Perez, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Department of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM)
University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742

This excellent Web resource provides a unique tool for either the general public or the avid researcher to access important sources of information about avian influenza. You will find general information about the disease as well as a number of links to national and international organizations, which provide additional resources about the disease and its implications for animal and human health. The site also provides several chapters that highlight the most up-to-date information available in each area. Described as early as 1878 as fowl plague by Perroncito in Italy, avian influenza has come to haunt us every now and then.

Avian influenza is a disease of poultry, whose disease symptoms vary from completely mild or unnoticeable to a catastrophic disease with a mortality rate that can reach up to 100% in some avian species. The natural hosts of the virus are ducks, shorebirds, and other species of wild aquatic birds. In the natural hosts, influenza infections cause almost no disease signs and the infection is established mostly in the intestinal tract. The virus is excreted with the feces into the water promoting a cycle of fecal-oral transmission. Occasionally, the virus jumps from wild birds to domestic birds causing disease outbreaks (sometimes sub clinical for awhile, and then become more obvious because they increase their virulence). Most avian influenza viruses do not infect humans. Avian influenza viruses from wild birds are so adapted to them that the chances of humans becoming infected with one of those viruses are very small. However, infections with non life-threatening avian influenza viruses have occurred in humans, mostly associated to conjunctivitis (pink eye). Avian influenza viruses that become adapted to domestic flocks are also not likely to jump to humans. However, the H5N1 virus experience in Asia has taught us that letting influenza viruses circulate in domestic bird species for extended periods can lead to strains that become more and more efficient at making the jump to humans and other animal species. Being vigilant, identifying potential disease signs, learning more about the disease and its interactions with the host, and practicing strict biosecurity measures, will do a great deal toward protecting poultry and ourselves. As the world prepares for the inevitable, poultry farmers around the world can be at the forefront in the control of the disease and thus prevent the emergence of pandemic influenza strains at the amplification stage: poultry species. On the research arena, novel vaccine strategies and faster and more sensitive diagnostic tools will soon provide a number of alternatives to the poultry sector to combat the disease. In the future, researchers will be able to predict which viruses are more likely to be a pandemic threat. However, it is only going to be through the combined effort of poultry farmers, poultry veterinarians, government agencies, diagnosticians and researchers that the inevitable can be made preventable.



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