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Avian Influenza as a New Health Challenge
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Communicable now diseases spread faster across boundaries than any other time in history. This is largely attributed to increased human mobility facilitated by quick transport means. Diseases that had been controlled are now a threat to humanity, which has necessitated a review of vaccination practices to counter new diseases trends. In America, for instance, the 2014-2015 avian Influenza is the worst case of the three outbreak incidences ever recorded. The other major cases, although of a less magnitude, were reported in 1983 and 2004 (Kumar, 2012). One of the fast and widely spread avian influenza incidences was first reported in Mexico back in April 2009. The same was reported in the U.S. in the same month. The outbreak assumed pandemic proportions within 50 days (Uyeki, 2011). The flue was reported in Canada, India, and Australia among other 73 countries within the same period, an indication that it spread at a very fast rate. Reports show that there were 163 death cases and 35,928 infections in three months (Kumar, 2012).
Avian influenza, in most cases, affects birds much as it occurs in mammals also. The disease is caused by a virus called influenza A that evolves continually in its host (Vaughan & Tinker, 2009). Consequences of the evolving nature of the virus include the production of viral strains in hosts. There is no certainty on immediate cause or source of infections to birds. Most outbreaks, however, start with indirect or direct contact of poultry and water birds.

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Although most strains circulating in wild birds are mildly or non-pathogenic in poultry, virulent strains easily emerge because of genetic mutation and assortment of what may have been less virulent (Egede & Zheng, 2003). Once established in poultry, the disease becomes highly contagious. It spreads to humans from handling and consumption of poultry products. The virus is highly contagious and may also be transmitted through air (Truman, Tinker, Vaughan, Kapella, & Brenden, 2009).
As hinted, influenza A virus is transmittable across species much as some subtypes of the virus are specific to some species. However, birds can host all known subtypes including the H3N2 and H1N1 currently circulating among humans (Egede & Zheng, 2003). The virus is transmitted to humans through contact with infected birds or through intermediate animals such as pigs. The Influenza A virus has eight segmented genome that results in the creation of a new virus when the from two diverse species mix in one host, either a person or an animal (Egede & Zheng, 2003). Often, this results into a virus able to infect and spread easily and faster among people. Besides, genetic re-assortment may ensue when the host person is infected with human influenza A and avian influenza virus. This behavior identified as antigenic shift easily leads to an influenza pandemic if most people have weak or no immunity against the resulting influenza virus (Vaughan & Tinker, 2009). Notably though, chances of human to human transmission of the virus remain low although that does not call for ignorance when handling infected persons.
The main risk factors for infections to humans are direct and indirect exposure to live or dead infected birds or poultry, contaminated environments, or contact with infected persons much as chances are comparatively low for human to human transmission (Kumar, 2012). Therefore, the control of the virus and disease in poultry is important for certainty in minimizing the chances of human infections. No scientific research has shown that humans can get the avian influenza virus from eggs or other poultry products when properly cooked (Truman, Tinker, Vaughan, Kapella, & Brenden, 2009). The danger, however, is not worth the risk. In any case, de-feathering, slaughtering, and handling infected poultry exposes one to the virus especially if done within the household setting.
A review of the risk factors shows that the outbreak has serious consequences and impact on community systems. It has social, economic, and even cultural effects. People ought to avoid contact with birds and poultry whenever there is an outbreak. Anyone who is fond of chicken has to avoid it lest they risk acquiring the virus (Uyeki, 2011). Prevention measures require people to stay in well ventilated places and avoid crowded places. However, it is advisable to thoroughly wash hands with detergents after handling poultry or even when dirtied by secretions (Vaughan & Tinker, 2009). Environmental and personal hygiene is crucial as a mitigation approach. Living under the tension of acquiring the virus in the event of an outbreak has a direct effect on community systems such as schools and other institutions much as it strains public resources.
An outbreak of avian influenza often leads to the closure of poultry markets. Farmers and traders in that market suffer great losses as the take precautionary measures. Farmers, for instance, may be forced to kill and dispose birds leading to great loses on their investments. This is in view that consumers are warned against using poultry products whenever there is an outbreak (Egede & Zheng, 2003). Many are also scared that consuming these infections may persist longer even after the outbreak is announced as contained. In that case, farmers suffer from the consequences of low sales. National economies are also affected because of low incomes of its citizens much as resources are unnecessarily used in fighting the outbreak (Kumar, 2012). Clearly, the outbreak would cause tension in the operation of systems such as schools where large populations convene. Hospital operations will also be affected because of increased number of patients which may also drain government resources.
In the event of an outbreak, it is important to report to government authorities following the right protocol. Adherence to protocol is important to ensure that the report does not cause public tension that may lead to more harm. It would be appropriate to report to the local government administrators who would then pass the massage to other relevant authorities, schools, hospitals, and the public. Since most people already use social media, I would not hesitate to pass the message using the same media. It would be appropriate to take personal initiative and pass the massage to religious groups and business organizations. Reporting to these organizations would ensure that the message, particularly on precautionary measures, reaches everyone in the society.
Devising and implementing strategies to minimize chances of avian influenza outbreak in the society is a vital move. This can be achieved through public sensitization on risk factors and helps to ensure that people take preventive measures. It may be helpful to have members of the society knowledgeable on the most effective and safe response whenever an avian influenza incidence reported amongst them. Knowledge and skills on handling infected birds or poultry would be at the core of the community education and patient education training. Emphasis would be on important preventive measures such as ensuring personal and environmental hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and food safety particularly when preparing and consuming poultry products. Nonetheless, it would be important to propose and initiate prevention and control initiative to respond to outbreaks.
References
Egede, L. E., & Zheng, D. (2003). Racial/Ethnic Differences in Influenza Vaccination Coverage in High-Risk Adults. American Journal of Public Health 93(12), 2074-2078.
Kumar, S. (2012). Planning for avian flu disruptions on global operations: a DMAIC case study. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, 25(3), 197-215.
Truman, B. I., Tinker, T., Vaughan, E., Kapella, B. K., & Brenden, M. (2009). Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Among Immigrants and Refugees. American Journal of Public Health, suppl. Supplement, 99(2), 278-286.
Uyeki, T. M. (2011, March 7). Transmission of Avian Influenza A Viruses Between Animals and People. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/virus-transmission.htm
Vaughan, E., & Tinker, T. (2009). Effective Health Risk Communication About Pandemic Influenza for Vulnerable Populations. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 64-67.

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