Avian influenza outbreak a human crisis too
When news of human fatalities first started to emerge in Asia in the late 1990s, human deaths made the headlines, but this is no longer the case. Yet the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that whenever avian influenza viruses are circulating in poultry, sporadic infections and small clusters of human cases are possible in people exposed to infected poultry or contaminated environments.
WHO reports continues that, between 2003 and May 1, 2015, there were 447 deaths and 840 cases of humans infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus. It should be remembered that the majority of these infections and deaths have occurred in rural areas of developing countries. It could well be argued that, given a lack a resources for diagnosis and reporting, an accurate figure would be somewhat higher.
That these deaths occurred in developing countries does not take away from the tragedy for the individuals concerned, their families and communities, but perhaps it makes the human impact of bird flu easier for those in the wider world to ignore.
Poor biosecurity and the migratory flight paths of wild birds are usually the two key points in any discussion of how avian influenza spreads and how it should be controlled. But it should also be remembered that poverty and lack of resources - as well as ignorance - can also play their part.