Bird flu (or avian influenza virus) came to public attention in the late 1990’s when it spread through live-poultry markets in Hong Kong and infected people leading to six deaths. It has since caused the deaths of hundreds of more people from Asia as well as in parts of Africa, Europe and Canada.
The bird flu virus is best-suited to birds but has changed in such a way that it can now infect humans and other animals (including dogs, cats, tigers and pigs). How did this happen? Factory farming is to blame. The virus used to exist quite happily in aquatic birds (ducks) and spread from bird to bird in water causing no problem to the birds. When people began taking these birds to market the virus had to adapt or die and so it became able to spread through other means – in the bird poo or secretions from the mouth, nose or eyes of infected birds.
Chickens raised in closed, crowded, stressful and unsanitary industrial facilities with little or no natural light, offer the bird flu virus a perfect environment to mutate and spread. A perfect storm of our own making!
The poultry industry plays down the risk to humans but if the virus changes in such a way that it becomes easily spread between humans we could be facing a human pandemic of killer proportions never seen before. The only way to stop further spread would be for huge numbers of people to stop eating poultry, pigs and other animals raised in factory-farms – the ideal breeding ground for a new killer virus.