Published on: February 28, 2024



NEWS – Deadly bird flu hits Antarctica for first time, threatening penguins


Bird flu is caused by influenza A viruses that naturally occur in wild birds. The H5N1 subtype is one of the most well-known highly pathogenic strains.

Transmission and Spread:

Bird flu primarily spreads among birds through direct contact with infected birds or their droppings. Migratory birds can carry the virus over long distances, contributing to its global spread. The virus can also be transmitted through contaminated surfaces, equipment, and by the respiratory route. Human infections usually occur through close contact with infected birds or their environments.

Symptoms in Birds:

Bird flu symptoms in poultry can vary, but they often include respiratory distress, swelling of the head and neck, a drop in egg production, and a high mortality rate. Highly pathogenic strains can cause rapid and severe outbreaks in poultry farms, leading to significant economic losses.

Human Infections:

While bird flu primarily affects birds, certain strains can infect humans, leading to severe respiratory illness and, in some cases, death. The transmission from birds to humans is rare but can occur, especially when there is close contact with infected birds or their secretions. Notable cases include the H5N1 and H7N9 subtypes.

Global Impact:

Bird flu outbreaks have significant implications for the poultry industry and food security. Culling infected birds is a common control measure to prevent the spread of the virus. The economic impact is substantial, affecting livelihoods and trade. Global health organizations closely monitor bird flu due to the potential for human infections and the associated public health risks.

Prevention and Control Measures:

  1. Surveillance and Monitoring: Regular monitoring of bird populations, especially in areas with known cases, helps detect and control outbreaks early.
  2. Biosecurity Measures: Implementing strict biosecurity measures on poultry farms, including controlling access, proper waste management, and disinfection, helps prevent the entry and spread of the virus.
  3. Vaccination: Vaccinating poultry against specific strains of bird flu is a preventive measure used in some regions. However, vaccination strategies may vary based on the subtype and the prevalence of the virus.
  4. Culling and Quarantine: Rapid culling of infected birds and strict quarantine measures are crucial to prevent the further spread of the virus within poultry populations.
  5. Public Health Measures: Educating the public about the risks associated with bird flu and promoting hygiene measures, such as avoiding direct contact with sick birds and proper cooking of poultry products, helps minimize the risk of human infections.

Global Response and Coordination:

The World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) collaborate to monitor and respond to bird flu outbreaks globally. Their efforts include surveillance, research, and the development of guidelines for preventing and controlling the disease.

Historical Perspective:

The H5N1 strain gained international attention in the early 2000s due to its high pathogenicity and the potential for human infections. Since then, various subtypes have been identified, and sporadic human cases continue to be reported. The ongoing monitoring and research contribute to a better understanding of the virus and its behavior.

Challenges and Concerns:

  1. Antigenic Drift and Shift: Influenza viruses can undergo genetic changes, leading to antigenic drift or shift. This makes it challenging to predict and respond effectively to emerging strains.
  2. Global Travel and Trade: The interconnectedness of global travel and trade increases the risk of the rapid spread of the virus across borders, emphasizing the need for international collaboration in surveillance and response efforts.
  3. Pandemic Potential: The potential for a bird flu virus to acquire genetic changes that allow sustained human-to-human transmission raises concerns about the possibility of a pandemic. Preparedness measures, including vaccine development, are crucial to mitigating this risk.


Bird flu remains a significant global health concern due to its impact on both animal and human populations. While it primarily affects birds, the potential for human infections underscores the importance of vigilant surveillance, effective control measures, and international collaboration. Ongoing research and preparedness efforts are essential to mitigate the risks associated with bird flu and protect public health, food security, and the global economy