symptoms, what are the risks to humans?

AVIAN INFLUENZA 2022. The health situation of the bird flu epidemic in France is improving. What is bird flu or rather “bird flu”? What are the risks to humans? What symptoms? Lighting with Pr Jeanne Brugère-Picoux, veterinarian and member of the National Academy of Medicine.

[Mise à jour le 9 juin 2022 à 11h02] Bird flu or rather “bird flu” is a animal disease caused by A strains of influenza virus. We are talking about”epizootic“as it is one epidemic affecting animals. It is a contagious, viral, highly contagious disease that affects domestic and wild birds, which, depending on the strain, transmitted to humans without necessarily becoming ill. Transferimproving the national health situationMarc Fesneau, Minister for Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, has decided tolower the level of risk in the national territory to “insignificant” from June 8, the ministry said. Specified by a decree published today in the Official Journal of the European Union, this new phase makes it possible to lift the existing restrictions over the vast majority of the territory. Since 17 May 2022, no new outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in breeding in France, and to date only a few cases have been confirmed in wildlife. What is bird flu? A flu like the one you can get in the winter? What take precautions ? What risks to humans whose animals are contaminated? What symptoms in animals ? The man ? How come this infection ? Lighting.

Avian influenza virus transmission cycle © Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

How Many Cases Of Bird Flu In France?

Since November 2021, France has been through an episode of extremely virulent highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which led toslaughter of more than 16 million poultry. From June 8 France has a total of 1,378 outbreaks of HPAI in livestock, 55 cases in wildlife and 35 cases in backyards. Transferimproving the national health situationMarc Fesneau, Minister for Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, has decided tolower the level of risk on national territory to “insignificant” from 8 June. As a reminder in case of an epidemic “The main problem is to be successful stop the development of the virus and above all to avoid contamination of breeding farms for chickens, turkeys, etc. Their attacks would result in the loss of many years of genetic research. We need to protect these grandparents. ” Opposite to, no fear for the man in France “because there are not the same risk factors as in Asia where pollution has been observed (the market for live poultry likely to be infected, insecure conditions with significant coexistence with uncontrolled poultry, persistence of the virus …) “ continues the specialist. In France, the protection of poultry is crucial in view of the unusual risk to humans. It is based on drastic biosecurity measures. In Europe, 36 countries are affected by the 2021-2022 highly pathogenic avian influenza epizooti.

Bird flu in France
Bird flu outbreak in France on June 3, 2022 © Ministry of Agriculture

What is bird flu?

Birds “flu” or rather bird flu is a disease caused by avian influenza virus (A) highly pathogenic (HPAI). It’s a virus influenza virus family. We talk like that in a way insufficient “bird flu” whereas in birds it is a disease characterized by a sepsis associated with encephalitis, and not from a predominantly respiratory condition such as human influenza. “That chickenpox virus was discovered in 1959 and first case official that we had in France did not happen until 2006 ” emphasizes Jeanne Brugère-Picoux. This disease is especially contagious and viruses can even be carried by the wind from one building to another. Many species of wild birds, especially those that live in wetlands and aquatic environments, contain influenza viruses. Anseriformes (especially ducks, geese and swans) and charadriiformes (such as gulls, terns and waders) are the main natural reservoir for chickenpox virus. The infection can destroy an entire herd in less than 48 hours.

“If humans can get infected with the bird flu virus, they are not necessarily sick”

Can bird flu be transmitted to humans?

“In France, no human case has been observed to date associated with contamination with an HPAI virus” recalled the Academy of Medicine in a Declaration of December 2021. Worldwide are cases of HPAI H5N1 viruses have been identified in humans as well as deaths (455 deaths between 2003 and 2019, none in 2020 and 2021), but they remained very rare and has been observed in persons who have had close contact with infected poultry or with objects contaminated by their excrement. Or else, “if man can be infected with bird flu virus, he is not necessarily sick”, emphasizes Jeanne Brugère-Picoux. Humans are not susceptible to this virus at the level of the first cells of the respiratory system, it is necessary to reach the alveoli in order for there to be a serological reaction with this virus, i.e. at the level of the deep respiratory system. At this point, you will have a serological reaction, but not necessarily a disease. If we inhale a little bit of the virus found in the feathers during plague, we can get a serological reaction without being ill. “ Finally, it should be noted that not all avian influenza viruses are transmitted to humans. Of the 144 strains of avian influenza A virus, four have caused human infections: H5N1, H7N3, H7N7 and H9N2.

What is the risk of bird flu for humans?

“Bird plague virus is very pathogenic to animals, not to humans” continues our conversation partner. Remember (again) that in France no human case has been observed to date associated with contamination with an HPAI virus. “There is nothing to worry about for humans in relation to the foci of bird flu recorded in France, reassures Jeanne Brugère-Picoux. The problem is primarily protect yourself from contaminating other farms. ” Finally, “there has never been an adaptation of avian influenza virus to the human species by human-to-human transmission. This disease was not classified as a zoonosis before the “bird flu” crisis caused by H5N1 type HPAI virus of Asian origin, discovered in Asia in 1996.

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

→ In animals: After a generally very short incubation period (from 24 hours to a few days), animals infected with HPAI show varying clinical signs depending on the virus strains and the species concerned. As reported by FAO “clinical signs in chickens and turkeys include severe respiratory distress with excessively moist eyes and sinusescyanosis of the combs, comb and hocks, a edema of the head and eyelids, of shaggy feathers, diarrhea and signs of nervousness “. Eggs laid after the onset of the disease are often without shells. That disease in turkeys is similar to that in chickensbut is it often complicated by bacterial infections secondary such as those caused by bird cholera (Pateurella multocida), turkey cold (Hemophilus gallinarum) or colibacillosis (Escherichia coli)

→ In humans: In the rare cases of bird flu transmitted to humans, the disease was most often mild. The cases are asymptomatic or may report fever, fatigue, body aches, sore throat. The occurrence of these symptoms in a person who has been in a risk area or who has been in contact with contaminated birds must be treated immediately. In more severe cases, chickenpox can be complicated by pneumonia with high mortality.

“There is no risk to humans from eating poultry or eggs.”

Bird plague virus spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated with their excrement. To protect yourself and above all to avoid contaminating other birds, wash your hands regularly, wear a mask and waterproof gloves (when handling dead animals or animal waste). If you travel to (or live in) an area with bird flu, there are many biosafety measures recommended:

  • avoid high-risk areas. The law prohibits any transport of birds in this case and imposes strict biosecurity measures in poultry farms: foot baths, car hatches)
  • avoid direct contact with birds, especially chickens, hens, ducks and wild birds; persons with “pet hens” must confine them to avoid any contact with wild birds with a fine;
  • avoid surfaces contaminated with bird droppings or secretions;
  • comply with the rules of hand hygiene and food hygiene.

In addition, France has launched a government plan to combat bird flu with various steps to be followed depending on the progress of a possible epidemic.

Is it safe to eat chicken and eggs?

“Yes, assures Jeanne Brugère-Picoux. There is no risk to humans from eating poultry or eggs, nor a boiled or raw egg, because bird flu virus is not dangerous to humans. In addition, the animals die quickly in the event of bird flu, and the birds that may have been contaminated and their products are not marketed.

What are the treatments for bird flu? A vaccine?

“We do not treat this disease in humans in France as in Europe elsewhere,” our interlocutor replies. No avian influenza vaccine has been approved by the European Commission.

Thanks to Professor Jeanne Brugère-Picoux, veterinarian and member of the National Academy of Medicine.


• Avian influenza and the virus that causes it.

Bird flu. Handle. 2017

Bird plague, a disaster for farms, an unusual risk to humans. Press release from the Academy of Medicine. December 22, 2021.

• Bird flu, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Directorate – General for Forestry and Rural Affairs, Directorate – General for Food, July 2006.

Bird Flu, Institut Pasteur.

• Bird flu, bird flu and the threat of a pandemic: a new problem in the work environment. INRS.2006.

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