What is Avian Flu?
Type A influenza viruses can infect several animal species, including birds, pigs, horses, seals and whales. Influenza viruses that infect birds are called “avian influenza viruses.” Birds are an especially important species because all known subtypes of influenza A viruses circulate among wild birds, which are considered the natural hosts for influenza A viruses. Avian influenza viruses do not usually directly infect humans or circulate among humans.
Influenza A viruses can be divided into subtypes on the basis of their surface proteins — hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). There are 15 known H subtypes. While all subtypes can be found in birds, only 3 subtypes of HA (H1, H2 and H3) and two subtypes of NA (N1 and N2) are known to have circulated widely in humans.
Avian influenza usually does not make wild birds sick, but can make domesticated birds very sick and kill them. Avian influenza A viruses do not usually infect humans; however, several instances of human infections and outbreaks have been reported since 1997. When such infections occur, public health authorities monitor the situation closely because of concerns about the potential for more widespread infection in the human population.