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Bird Flu And Your Pets: A Cause For Concern?


ABOUT seven weeks ago, a client of mine had requested for a pair of lovebirds for his children, but could not take them away immediately because we hadn’t enough cages.

  However, when I asked him a few days ago to come and pick his birds, he declined and stated that he no longer wanted these birds for his kids. And as to the reason, the fear of bird flu stuck out of his throat.

  Another was the case of a very good friend who actually returned a parrot and two cut-throat finches he bought some days ago because of the same morbid fear of bird flu.

  Apart from these, someone also contacted me on phone to enquire about how to poison wild birds that are always in his expansive compound perching and scavenging, all because of his acquired knowledge about the ongoing frenzy of bird flu.

  With these, it is no gain saying that the fear of bird flu is the beginning of wisdom. But are these fears founded or are people merely over-reacting?

  Whichever side of the fulcrum you tilt, it is still very important that families protect their loved ones from anything remotely connected to the disease.

  Since the catch-wordcatchword is bird, it may not sound quite insane for those who have these animals with predilection to exercise a fear for the disease.

  However, let us examine in a most pedestrian manner, the disease- AVIAN INFLUENZA- and consider our contacts-pets.

  Categorically, avian influenza (bird flu) is not a new disease; it has been known for decades to affect poultry and other wild birds. 

  However, the latest episode actually started among wild birds in South East Asia in early 2003 and it is manifested during the flu season with a very vicious cycle from birds (through fecal, nasal and oral dropping equipment used to tend poultry- clothings and other apparels worn by poultry attendants and people working closely with these birds.)

  The transfer from person to person is facilitated through droplets when someone who has already contracted the disease coughs or sneezes and those who are prone to this are mostly people with compromised immunity.

  At the moment, it is very contentious to assert that the strain that causes influenza in man through contact with infected birds can equally affect domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, although there is disturbing news from some Dutch scientists that the house cat can carry the deadly strain of H5N1.

  These scientists infected cats with the virus and the cats contracted the disease. When the researchers fed cats with chicks infected with bird flu virus, the cats, like those inoculated with the virus, developed severe pulmonary symptoms. They then passed the disease to two other cats that shared their quarters.   

  One of the cats actually died before the end of the experiment and the others suffered lung inflammations.

  Curiously, cats are not generally susceptible to disease from influenza virus infection. However, if cats are found to excrete the virus, they may be vectors of the disease, passing it onto man and birds, and this will be something significant and serious because of cat’s close relationship with man. 

  For now, no measured attention is being paid to this possible way of spreading the disease because poultry still remains the main source. 

  It is nonetheless a plausible way; hence cat owners must know that their cats need to be protected from being fed food from infected poultry or contact from any form of poultry droppings.

  Another major cause for concern for scientists could be the uncanny ability of strains of the viruses in cats to reassert and recombine with themselves and form a new virus that can infect humans, passing from one person to another. This is most unlikely, but could happen.

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