Avian influenza, or bird flu, which is caused by strain A of the flu virus, is an infectious disease which affects both wild and domesticated birds. This infection, which can be transmitted between birds, can be either benign or fatal, and can cause serious epidemics.
In principle, bird flu does not affect people.
However, in exceptional circumstances, highly pathogenic strains can cause serious respiratory illnesses in humans. Bird flu is transmitted mainly:
- in the air;
- by direct contact with the respiratory secretions and excrements of sick animals;
- by exposure to contaminated materials (food, water, equipment and clothing).
Exposure occurs in particular during slaughter, plucking, cutting up and preparing poultry before cooking.
The large-scale migration of birds leading up to the spring season can also spread the bird flu virus. The Administration of Veterinary Services and the Lëtzebuerger Natur- a Vulleschutzliga (Luxembourg Nature and Bird Protection League) work closely together to monitor the state of health of migrating birds using laboratory testing. The migration of wild birds generally continues until the end of April.
Precautionary measures during migration periods
During this period, the following precautionary measures should be applied for farmyard poultry:
- prevent all contact between farmyard poultry and wild birds, in particular with water birds;
- always distribute food and water inside buildings; if they are distributed outside, keep them protected from wild birds;
- only purchase poultry from recognised breeders who can provide an official health certificate;
- monitor the health of poultry very carefully and contact a veterinarian if symptoms of the disease appear;
- poultry gatherings and shows should only take place under the supervision of a vet.
If several wild bird carcasses are discovered in a restricted zone, the Rescue Services Agency should be contacted on the phone number 112.
The current vaccine against seasonal flu does not protect against bird flu.
There are two antiviral medicines which reduce the severity and duration of seasonal flu: Tamiflu® and Relenza®.
If infected with the bird flu virus, these medicines can improve the patient's chances of survival, on the condition that they are administered within 48 hours.
As there is no vaccine, these antiviral medicines are currently the only method of protection aside from hygiene measures and precautions which should always be taken.