The big news which is unfolding under the radar, and which was ignored by news media until recently because of the political crisis in the UK, is that bird flu (H5N1, a form of avian influenza) is ravaging native wild bird numbers and domestic stock across the northern hemisphere which includes America.
I mention the last point because CDC in America states that “if your domestic animals (cats or dogs) go outside and could potentially eat sick or dead birds infected with bird flu viruses, they could be infected with bird flu.”
And they go on to state that while it is unlikely that their human caregiver’s will get the disease from an infected cat it is possible.
This disease is zoonotic. It spreads between animals and people. And I’ve got to presume that it can spread back from people to animals in much the same way that occurred with Covid-19.
Bird flu, therefore, is a pandemic which is happening right now about which many people are unaware. The northern hemisphere is facing the worst outbreak the world has seen.
The Times newspaper reports that about 3.5 million chickens, ducks and turkeys have been culled on British farms. Across Europe the number is 48 million.
The great skua, a noisy wild bird species whose breeding ground is on the islands of St Kilda, Shetland and Orkney have suffered what is believed to be an 85% decrease in numbers.
Some experts believe that this wild bird is in danger of extinction because of this pandemic. James Pearce-Higgins, director of science at the British Trust for Ornithology said: “The UK has 60% of the world population of great skuas. If we lost 10% of that and it could well be a much higher figure it will take a long time for the population to recover…. there is a significant the heightened risk of global extinction”.
In Britain, seabirds such as guillemots, kittiwakes and puffins have been found dead around the British coast from the Isles of Scilly in the south to the Hebrides in the north.
Even the rare birds of prey such as hen harriers and whitetailed eagles have been affected. Ornithologists are going through a conservation crisis.
It won’t surprise people to know that this pandemic started in the same place that Covid-19 started: China. It emerged in southern China in 1996. It appeared in humans in Hong Kong in 1997.
It crossed over from poultry to people when 18 were infected, six of which died. The disease has a high mortality rate.
The disease has occasionally jumped from animal to human. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation reported that there had been 863 cases since 2003. Of these, 455 died.
There was a recent story of a 79-year-old man, Alan Gosling, living in Devon, UK you contracted H5N1 from his Muscovy ducks. He recovered.
A Spanish man has contracted the disease. He works in a poultry farm.
The danger to humans has decreased over the 25 years that this disease has been around. It appears to have become less infectious, but it should not be treated trivially.
It might change again and become more serious for people. For birds the virus has gone in the other direction and become more serious because it is more infectious. The precise change has not been identified. It has not received the same analysis that Covid-19 did.
It is hoped that the birds will reach herd immunity and develop a protection against the virus.
Because so many turkeys are produced for Christmas in the UK (8-9 million) produces don’t expect it to be a significant problem for Christmas.
Below are 3 more zoonotic diseases which can infect domestic cats.
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