Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching

The H5N1 flu strain arising out of Asia has killed about 200 people. The last time a bird flu virus adapted to humans, it triggered the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people around the globe. Experts believe that as long as poultry is being raised in stressful, filthy, overcrowded conditions, virulent strains of this virus will continue to arise.

| December 2007/January 2008

  • Healthy chickens with access to fresh air and pasture are less susceptible to bird flu and other diseases than their industrially raised counterparts.
    Healthy chickens with access to fresh air and pasture are less susceptible to bird flu and other diseases than their industrially raised counterparts.
    Photo by Jason Houston
  • Sneezing into your sleeve, instead of your hand, helps prevent spreading the flu virus via your hands.
    Sneezing into your sleeve, instead of your hand, helps prevent spreading the flu virus via your hands.
    Photo by Web Communications, University of Missouri-Columbia

  • Healthy chickens with access to fresh air and pasture are less susceptible to bird flu and other diseases than their industrially raised counterparts.
  • Sneezing into your sleeve, instead of your hand, helps prevent spreading the flu virus via your hands.

The bird flu virus: How a deadly disease could be a hidden cost of choosing cheap meat.

Bird flu is caused by a common — and usually harmless — virus found in ducks, but in recent years highly virulent strains have emerged that have caused massive losses of chickens and other domestic birds raised for food.

When an outbreak has occurred, traditionally the virus has been stamped out by quickly destroying all infected and exposed birds. In the United States, 17 million birds were killed in Pennsylvania due to the H5N2 strain of the bird flu virus in 1983 to 1984, and 200 million birds in Eurasia and Africa have been killed due to the H5N1 strain since 2004.

Needless to say, the poultry industry is terrified of bird flu, but not just because of its avian victims: The H5N1 flu strain arising out of Asia also has killed about 200 people. The last time a bird flu virus adapted to humans, it triggered the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people around the globe.



Experts believe that as long as poultry is being raised in stressful, filthy, overcrowded conditions, virulent strains of this virus will continue to arise. The poultry industry is eager both to protect their huge flocks from bird flu outbreaks, and to downplay the connection between the high-risk conditions in their poultry sheds and the propensity these conditions have to facilitate the emergence of deadly strains of the virus.

Bird Flu: Laying Blame

Migrating birds have been easy scapegoats. Unfounded claims that wild birds were to blame for the spread of dangerous strains of bird flu were used as a smokescreen to take the focus off industry practices and government policies. But the blanket of protection is being pulled away. A 2006 international science conference, sponsored by the world’s leading veterinary and agricultural authorities, came to the consensus that the main means by which this virus is spreading globally is not via migrating birds, but rather the multibillion dollar commercial trade in poultry products.

Janet_2
1/9/2009 9:02:48 PM

Why did the author consistently use the word "mutate" to describe the changes in the virus when the accurate description is "evolve"? A mutation is a one-off quirk. The virus has evolved in order to survive in different species, from bird to human. If it evolves further, it will go from human to human. It is not a 'mutant', some freak of nature from a SciFi novel. The virus is a form of life that is capable of adapting to survive; it evolves.


JoeOvercoat
1/3/2008 1:30:08 PM

My understanding is that "outside in the open air, influenza viruses quickly dehydrate and die, or are rapidly killed by the UV rays in sunlight" does not agree with recent findings that viruses thrive in cool dry air because they are not weighed down by humidity to ground. And this article fails to address the 1918 pandemic in the context of the existence of factory farms at that time, or more importantly, the lack thereof.


Reb
12/8/2007 9:29:23 PM

Thank you for a well written article on this subject. As a small farm advocate I work daily with so called press releases on the coming pandemic and how backyard flock are going to kill us all. Quite simply the NAIS National Animal ID System is a by-prouduct of the industrial ag practicioners and big brother working together to control the food supply,no not a conspiracy theory,but a very well documented fact. They have caused the problem now they have the solution,the corporate takeover of the food supply,top to bottom,public and private. If one would like to know more check out www.nonais.org or www.libertyark.org and above all raise your own food and never give in to the deciders! "Live free or die tryin"







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