Avian influenza (“bird flu”) is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. The infection can cause a wide spectrum of symptoms in birds, ranging from mild illness, which may pass unnoticed, to a rapidly fatal disease that can cause severe epidemics.
Avian influenza viruses do not normally infect humans. However, there have been instances of certain highly pathogenic strains causing severe respiratory disease in humans. In most cases, the people infected had been in close contact with infected poultry or with objects contaminated by their faeces. Nevertheless, there is concern that the virus could mutate to become more easily transmissible between humans, raising the possibility of an influenza pandemic.
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