Avian Flu: Impact On Farms
Avian flu poses a serious threat to the health of animals and humans. In addition, it has negatively impacted the economy of large farms and food production.
What is bird flu?
Avian flu is a viral, acute and infectious disease. It affects birds and mammals of different species, including pets and humans.
It was first recognized in Italy during the early 20th century, but quickly spread across the planet. Due to its lethality and the high risk of contamination, it is considered an alarming zoonosis by the agencies that take care of Public Health.
The disease is caused by the H5 and H7 influenza virus subtypes belonging to genus A. It can infect wild and domestic birds, but chickens are especially vulnerable. Therefore, the disease was also known as “chicken flu”.
Ways of transmission
The spread and transmission of avian influenza is more intense on poultry farms and fields.
The infected bird eliminates viruses primarily through its feces and respiratory fluids. Therefore, the most frequent form of transmission is direct contact with the feces and secretions of contaminated birds. However, the airway is also an important diffuser of these pathogens. As well as contact with food, water or infected objects.
Infection in Humans
Avian flu normally shouldn’t infect humans. This happens thanks to an abnormal and unpredictable mutation of some viruses in the influenza family .
The first cases in humans were diagnosed in Hong Kong, in 1997. The sacrifice of millions of domestic birds prevented the emergence of a pandemic.
The initial symptoms resemble those of a common flu: cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fever. As the disease advances, the patient’s risk of developing severe respiratory problems such as pneumonia increases.
Currently, the WHO keeps the alert for a possible avian flu pandemic. The justification is the large migration of H5N1 influenza virus types across all continents.
Negative effects on farms
The disease leads to many deaths and decreases the bird population. Added to this is the preventive need to sacrifice many contaminated birds. The situation seriously affects countries in Asia and Africa, where this activity is fundamental to the regional economy. On the African continent, 70% of poultry production comes from domestic or corral farming.
Biosecurity and vulnerability costs
Another worrying aspect for these producers are the costs of applying the new measures to control and prevent the disease.
How could these semi-commercial farms compete with the big industries? The high production costs would create an inequality almost impossible to overcome, leaving these farmers in a dangerous situation of vulnerability.
Loans to small rural producers: an extra threat?
The losses caused by the high mortality of infected birds prevent producers from having reserve money capital. Therefore, many small poultry producers end up resorting to loans, due to financial losses.
This creates additional pressure for these farmers as they take on new debt with the requested loan. Which means more spending at a time of low profits.
There is a competitive imbalance between small farms and large-scale industrial production. The industries have a high financial liquidity, being able to survive periods of low sales or price decrease.
Negative impacts in Spain
In Europe, the negative effects of avian flu are already being felt in rural production areas. Recent reports confirm more than 2,700 highly pathogenic outbreaks in almost all European countries.
France and Hungary have the highest concentrations of cases in commercial poultry. Meanwhile, Germany has the highest number of diagnoses in wild birds.
The latest news says that Spain has 10 cases of high pathogenicity in domestic birds and 2 in wild birds. But the country had already registered more than 30,000 bird sacrifices in the month of February. Preventing and combating avian flu is an important Public Health issue where we can all collaborate. Therefore, it is essential to reinforce hygiene measures and choose with awareness where to buy poultry products.