Avian influenza (AI) virus is one of the most important diseases of the poultry industry around the world. The virus has a broad host range in birds and mammals, although the natural reservoir is wild birds where it typically causes an asymptomatic to mild infection. The virus in poultry can cause a range of clinical diseases and is defined either as low pathogenic AI (LPAI) or highly pathogenic AI (HPAI) depending on the type of disease it causes in chickens. Viruses that replicate primarily on mucosal surfaces and cause mild disease with low mortality are termed LPAI. Viruses that replicate on mucosal surfaces and systemically and cause severe disease with a mortality rate of 75% or greater in experimentally infected chickens are referred to as HPAI. A virus that is highly pathogenic in chickens may infect but result in a completely different disease and replication pattern in other host species. Outbreaks of HPAI have been relatively uncommon around the world in the last 50 years and have had limited spread within a country or region with one major exception, Asian lineage H5N1 that was first identified in 1996. This lineage of virus has spread to over 60 countries and has become endemic in poultry in at least four countries. AI virus also represents a public health threat, with some infected humans having severe disease and with a high case fatality rate. AI remains a difficult disease to control because of the highly infectious nature of the virus and the interface of domestic and wild animals. A better understanding of the disease and its transmission is important for control.
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