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Questions and answers about bird flu

What is bird flu?

Bird flu is caused by the influenza virus, albeit of a different subtype than the variants that usually cause influenza in humans. There are different types of bird flu viruses, but the virus behind the current outbreak is of the H5N1 subtype. The influenza virus that spreads among birds is not unusual, on the contrary, because wild birds, and then mainly ducks, are considered the natural reservoir of this virus.

What characterizes the current outbreak?

The current outbreak manifests itself in several ways. Partly the range, because it is so large with many affected birds, and partly that it has persisted and even increased somewhat despite the summer. Bird flu outbreaks usually occur during the winter months, then subside completely in the summer. The continuing outbreak of the virus is a sign that the virus has “overrun”. As happened last year, which is a completely new scenario.

How are infected birds affected?

– Above all, it has to do with the various symptoms that emanate from the brain. There are reports and videos of birds doing everything from flying up and down to swimming in circles. The explanation is that the virus makes its way to the brain, where it causes severe inflammation, which causes birds to behave differently.

Where and which birds were affected?

So far, most seabirds have died out on the west coast and around Jutland. Herring porcupines, common porcupines, thrushes and geese are among the species most affected, according to the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (SVA). No domestic birds have been infected so far in Sweden, but the SVA fears the infection could reach domestic birds. Within the European Union, 46 million birds have so far been euthanized in affected facilities.

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Is there a risk of people becoming infected?

The European Infection Control Authority (ECDC) and the Swedish Public Health Agency both estimate the risk of infection by an infected bird as “extremely low”. However, transmission of H5N1 virus to humans has occurred. Since 2003, nearly 860 cases have been reported in 19 countries, about half of whom have died. When handling dead birds, the SVA recommends avoiding direct contact with gloves or surrounding the bird in a plastic bag.

Read more: Thousands of birds dead along coasts in wake of bird flu