SBCC Resources for Avian Influenza
Avian Influenza (AI), also known as the bird flu, remains a serious public health threat in many parts of the world. The Influenza A virus, which is endemic in birds, appears in many forms and can cause severe illness or death in birds, other animal species and humans.
In 2013, China became the first country to report human and bird cases of a newly emerged subtype of the AI virus called H7N9. So far, the majority of cases have been attributed to direct contact with poultry (e.g. chickens, turkeys, ducks) or contaminated environments such as wet markets or areas where poultry is maintained. The virus does not seem to transmit easily among humans and sustained human-to-human transmission has not been reported. However, it is difficult to assess the risk to humans since H7N9 infections do not cause severe disease in poultry and the potential for “silent” transmission among poultry is high.
Most people infected with H7N9 suffer from severe respiratory illness such as pneumonia. Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The H7N9 virus is mostly contained in China; however other types of AI viruses continue to emerge globally. For example, two separate virus strains, H5N2 and H5N8, have recently surfaced in North America, though neither virus has caused any human infection to date. Another common subtype of AI is H5N1 – an extremely deadly virus that caused serious outbreaks in domestic poultry in parts of Asia and the Middle East. Since 2003, this subtype has infected 650 individuals across 15 countries with a fatality rate of 60% and has experienced a slight reemergence over the past several years.
AI viruses have the potential to change and become transmissible among humans, triggering a public health emergency at any moment. With an increase in global trade and travel, a serious outbreak can have devastating consequences on local and global economies. Critical to any prevention strategy is a national emergency preparedness plan.
In this installment of Trending Topics, the Health COMpass offers several SBCC tools and interventions that can assist ministries of health and program managers prepare for possible outbreaks. The tools below are wide-ranging and support emergency preparedness planning and risk management as well as communication strategies for promoting hygiene and safe preparation and handling of poultry.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza type A viruses and subtypes.
United States Department of Agriculture. (December 17, 2014). High pathogenic H5 avian influenza confirmed in wild birds in washington state h5n2 found in northern pintail ducks & h5n8 found in captive gyrfalcons.
World Health Organization. Avian influenza. Fact sheet: Updated March 2014.
World Health Organization. (February, 14, 2014). Frequently asked questions on human infection caused by the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus.
World Health Organization. (October 2, 2014). WHO risk assessment: Human infections with avian influenza A (H7N9) virus. Summary of surveillance and investigation findings.
Banner photo: A Lady Lama distributes H1N1 masks to a fellow Lama at Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya, India, as swine flu victims increase in India at an alarming rate.© 2009 Ayan Banerjee, Courtesy of Photoshare