Are you worried about bird flu?
The European Commission has called for EU states to step up checks on migratory flocks for bird flu after a meeting to discuss the threat of the disease spreading to Western Europe.
There are concerns that the virus, which has spread from the Far East to Russia and Kazakhstan, could be carried further West by migrating wild birds.
The Netherlands has already ordered that all of its poultry should be moved indoors.
What action should be taken to tackle the spread of bird flu? Are you concerned about threat to humans?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Perhaps the smartest approach would be for the government to develop a list of actions and precautions that should be taken at the national, community and individual level. Stem the virus before it ever arrives by acting now. Alas, it is too much to hope for as our government tends to be reactionary instead of proactive.
James, Surrey, UK
I hope the government will (temporarily) ban travel to and from infected areas worldwide. If we do have an outbreak of bird flu, don't blame migrating birds, that's nature, blame human activities such as travel and keeping poultry and livestock the "modern" way in crammed conditions.
We need to consider the fact this has been around for a long time and not let the media panic us into rash short term problem solving methods, like burning all birds, for instance. We need to let science take a lead role not politics or media. Both have there own agendas unfortunately not always based in fact and not always in our interests.
My stockpile of 'useful' long-term foodstuffs has increased. I now store plenty of tinned potatoes and veg, flour/yeast, frozen meats, pastas, baked beans, etc. My family could easily survive 6-8 weeks once 'panic' arrives at our supermarkets. As for the cost of the stockpile, I'll use the food sometime, so there is no net cost, but the whole stockpile costs less than £50.
I have been affected! Mostly it is nausea, caused by the Dutch ministry of Agriculture (or is it Aggroculture?) obliging farmers to keep their fowl indoors. This time the so-called 'hobby chickens' are excluded from these measures, but not out of benign sentiments. A few years ago we almost saw some rural uprisings, thanks to the mass killing of these birds, as they were 'suspected' of spreading disease. Maybe it's time the mass production of bird meat is stopped, since that is the main cause of all these disease-prone birds.
Wilco Sjouke, Dieren, Netherlands
Like all flu bugs before it this strain will go global so why worry, It will be spread by both humans and birds and will eventually die out in due course as all other strains do. Preventative measures will only delay its progress ie the culling of birds in the Far East has failed to prevent the spread of the disease to central Asia. The only thing to do is immunise those at risk and wait for the disease to pass its course
Martyn Howie, Aberdeen
When will the authorities learn? This is reminiscent of the BSE scare and no doubt will go the same way. For once over reaction is a good thing if it stops the spread. As for people who say they are fit, eat healthily and have nothing to worry about. Wake up! If it's not you, it could be those less strong such as your children or parents!!
C Berridge, London
Bird flu has killed only some 50 people so-far and yet there's hysteria about it killing over 50 million people worldwide which is pure nonsense. What about the some million people who die of Aids, typhoid and other easily preventable diseases and yet we never hear about these cases on the news. In some parts the bubonic plague is still around, but does anyone care? It's called natural selection, what gives humans the right to kill millions of birds, many of which would be endangered, just so we can live our silly little lives destroying nature for our own "benefit", its stupid.
Rob Owton, Whaley Bridge, UK
There seem to have been all sorts of problems with intensively reared poultry for many years - it seems Edwina Curry was right all those years ago when she condemned British eggs as being riddled with salmonella bacteria (and was made a scapegoat losing her job for her honesty). Just shows how bad intensive farming methods and overuse of chemicals/antibiotics are - there should more encouragement of local organic farming on a small scale, which would raise prices but might encourage people to eat less and more healthily. Intensive farming purely creates over quantities of bad food which cause obesity and general health problems anyway. It's creating a circle of ill health and disease in mankind, suffering in intensively reared animals and damage to the environment
I think people are nervously watching the bird flu situation but it competes with other things for our attention, and there are still a lot of unknowns. If it does break out, as usual many will think it will not affect them and don't want to be inconvenienced by quarantines or travel disruptions. But if the death count starts to go way up, people will start to have fear. And unfortunately, as usual, there is and will be misinformation from the media and the hysteria-mongers. The public health scientists are the ones some people listen to the least.
Jeremy, Atlanta, USA
The worst-case scenario would be an easily-spread, highly fatal form of the disease with a relatively long incubation period, occurring around holiday travel times. This would mean many people would contact it before it is detected and the healthcare system would be caught off-balance at the time. Tens of millions could die in a short period. Although this is highly unlikely, it really could change our society permanently just like the plague did.
Chrisse, Houston, Texas
I have been worried for several months about the flu pandemic as my business involves meeting a volume of people daily and I have young children so neighbourhood illness normally affects my family. I am even stockpiling food ready for the day as it will happen, it has to.
Jason Gillingham, Northants
This is such a sad comment on the way our society accepts food production methods. Anybody with any amount of intelligence will realize that the more life-forms there are per square foot, the higher the potential for disease to start and spread. As for the civets, they were probably kept in close proximity to the chickens, as they are a delicacy in Asia (yuck). If the Asian market wasn't so keen on "traditional" medicines, we'd probably be able to cut our endangered species list in half. Asia and other countries are going to have to start realizing that the old-fashioned methods of food production are safer for everybody in the long run. No brainer.
C McCormick, Calgary, Canada
I have decided that I will not be eating fowl until I know all is well again. I am taking no chances. We have had problems with beef. Then we had foot and mouth and now this fear of bird flu. I think I will feel safer eating fish.
Margaret Nash, Marlow
I have been following this since the book "The Great Influenza" was published, and believe spread to humans is just a matter of time - hopefully the pandemic will be like 1968, not 1918. I have bought tamiflu and nanomasks for my immediate family, have begun stockpiling food for 3 months, and have a running list of what I still need to acquire. I have withdrawn $1,000 in small bills from the banks. I've tried to educate all my co-workers and friends. Luckily, the houses in my immediate neighbourhood are spread out, so I'll be able to go outside with little fear of contamination. And I live right next to a complex of 17 embassies, so won't have to worry about looting and rioting.
Joyce Bernstein, Washington DC, USA
I believe key actions to be taken should include aggressive research in vaccines for people and animals. And, educating people of the flu, where it comes from and how to avoid contraction. When a successful vaccine has been found, aerial distribution of oral vaccine - laden bait is the most practical means. Similar to the vaccinations of the fox and raccoon in Canada and Europe for rabies. Having been in S.E. Asia when the mass culling of chickens took place in 2003. I have seen that no matter how aggressive or thorough a country may be in their attempts to stop the spread it is next to impossible.
Graham Houle, Anchorage, USA
I recently visited Vietnam during a small Avian Flu outbreak and when I got home I was showing flu signs (102.6 degree fever) and was quarantined in the hospital. This virus is very scary and serious measures should be taken to contain it. The fact that this virus even exists speaks mouthfuls for the living conditions of animals.
Holly Huff, Atlanta, USA
I keep pet chickens and enjoy free range organic eggs, as do many people in my rural community. Why has no information been given out so that we know what to look for, should it ever get here? Are there specific chicken symptoms or do I wait for my children to fall ill? Education dear government, would prevent hysteria and allow us a level of control and prevention. When will this government stop babysitting and allow us to be the rational intelligent adults that a majority of us are?
Pandemic outbreak of any disease will have a varied degree of impact around the globe. The wealthy developed nations have the resources to prepare, while much of the world that is far more likely to be more significantly hit have far more pressing concerns than the outside possibility of a super-flu outbreak. If and when this viral spread hits pandemic proportions, irrespective of eating or farming practices and habits, there will be a price to pay. How high that price is depends on our ability to quickly nip it in the bud.
Christopher Magee, Fairfax, VA, USA
Like many thousands of people in the UK, I keep chickens in my garden. It would be of great interest to myself and many like me to have some indication as to what the government thinking and advice would be to us casual chicken keepers/breeders. What action and when, that we could be expected to take should bird flue appear in the UK.
Roger Bradwell, Bridport, Dorset
Wild birds are being unfairly blamed for carrying this domestic bird flu. As New Scientist says, the disease's spread follows major rail, trade and travel links through the region, not bird migration routes.
Richard, Cambridge, UK
People should take this as a warning to start eating healthily, getting exercise and boosting your immune system in the meantime. The healthier you are, the less likely you will catch bugs. I eat well and get tonnes of exercise. I have not had a day's illness (not even with a cold) for over three years. I'm not worried about avian flu, because I am certain that my immune system will fight it off.
The scenario does not bode well: the virus is similar to the aggressive Spanish flu of 1918, the WHO admit that surveillance systems are inadequate, the infected birds have flown from South East Asia to (currently) Russia, the vaccines are not yet available and the antiviral agents are yet to be proven efficacious. We should be concerned and pragmatically plan for what all the experts believe will be a pandemic sometime in the near future. Concerns for our free range and domestic birds should come second to the health of the human race.
Why are free range birds being kept inside in some countries? There may be migratory birds outside, but inside they may be in contact with humans. Humans fly more miles every day than any other species.
John Warren, London, UK
This could cause the mass hysteria and worry that we saw with the BSE/CJD epidemic, and that's something we really don't need amidst this increasingly paranoid society.
Dan Craggs, Barry, United Kingdom
Why are we not confining all chickens etc indoors until the migration is over as they are in other European countries? We seem to getting enough information but what can be done when only key workers can be protected.
Janet Boaler, UK
As we continue our war on the environment, including our ghastly system of food production, we can only expect things to get worse. But that's good news for demagogues.
Jon Davis, USA
Another example of nature telling us we've got it wrong. Intensive farming has given us a host of diseases including antibiotic resistant human MRSA and rubbish food which in the West, is going to kill our children before their parents. And all of this whilst three quarters of the world is dying from malnutrition. We have to stop this madness now and put human life before profits and politics.
Jamie Warne, UK
Yes, I am concerned, but pragmatic enough to realise that sooner or later there will be an outbreak. Apart from trusting that there will be sufficient medicine stockpiled to deal with such an emergency, there seems little that may be done. The personal effect this will have is that I will give up long-held plans to start keeping chickens and ducks before I retire.
John B, Milton Keynes, UK
I think the best place to start is education! You cannot catch avian flu by eating chicken from the Far East. The government sent the 'how to deal with terrorism' to every home in the UK, perhaps they should send one advising the consumer how avian flu is contracted.
Lucie, Dundee, Scotland
As a front-line public health epidemiologist, I seriously worry about the ability of the global health care system to actually recognize an outbreak of influenza when it presents. Sadly, we can only speculate on the efficacy of our antivirals and vaccines. As long as China continues to be secretive about cases and antiviral use in birds, the entire world is at risk. To coin a phrase, be concerned; very concerned.
Marya, Columbia, SC
The risk may be small, but I'm not sure that you can over-exaggerate it because of the possible impact. If it moves to humans the loss of life in this country, from one report I heard, could be up to 2m. That may be an overestimate, but given that the 1918 pandemic killed about 250,000 here, it may be a serious possibility. The issue is not immediately about our life style but about what we can and should do. What steps could be taken to prevent an outbreak? If an outbreak occurs, what can be done to minimise the loss of human life?
David, Nottingham UK
There is now no question in the view of the world authorities that HPAI will cause a pandemic within the foreseeable future. I am an airline pilot and have been carrying a mask, gloves and Tamiflu with me at all times for the last 6 months. The lack of public awareness is appalling but to be honest is probably better in way, much as would we be told if an asteroid was on collision course with our planet. To remain ignorant of the potential consequences may well be fatal. Many informed people around the world have made extensive preparations and I hope many more will do so once they become informed. That of course will only happen when journalists and the publications they work for return to the values of reporting and informing, not making or influencing public policy and opinion.
Bradley Marsh, Auckland, New Zealand
Most of the great pandemics throughout history have at least in part been brought about by changes to the environment caused by human activity. While viruses could be regarded as natural, there is an argument to say that pandemics are not. The world cannot sustain billions of people fed on a diet rich in meat protein without negative ecological and health repercussions.
Mark Allen, Adelaide, South Australia
Spread of an avian flu pandemic is concerning, but pales in comparison to a serious human pandemic that is caused by it. Many experts believe it is no longer a case of "if", but "when" that human pandemic will start. The warnings have convinced me to begin preparing to deal with weeks and perhaps months of the challenges we may face, up to and including social disruption and essential service interruption.
Laura, Germantown, WI, USA
I'm concerned that we'll all be subject to the biggest medical experiment in history by the whole population being given antiviral drugs if an outbreak occurs. Nobody knows what the long-term effects of these will be - and considering that they reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, I'm not really sure which would be the bigger threat - bird flu or mass antiviral injections.
I absolutely agree that the spread of bird flu is something to be monitored continuously. However, to over-amplify the risk of the situation, as I feel the media is already doing, could have two dire effects. First, and most obviously, is the possibility of public panic. Second, is the possibility of public desensitization regarding the real risks of bird flu. I live in a country where at least once every 2 months there is a terror alert that subsequently gets blown out of proportion by the media. Many agree that the seriousness with which these alerts are regarded is diminishing. I would hate to see a similar disregard for the threat of bird flu develop as a result of premature or excessive media attention.
AJ Harris, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
It is difficult to decide which threat to be most concerned about anymore. Avian flu, mad cow disease, genetically modified vegetables, hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup and that's just our food. Reasonable precautions are certainly warranted, but panic is not useful. Won't it be interesting in a few years when it's determined that high anxiety levels from continual 'threats to humans' have brought about new disease threats to humans?
MSprague, California, USA
People are missing the point. If this bird flu virus mutates to a human form, it will be spread by humans like any other virus, it will be untreatable and millions of people will die. Stop harping on about the welfare off a few chickens, and start worrying about your kids.
Andrew, Lincoln UK
Stopping the wild bird flu from sweeping across the planet is akin to trying to catch smoke with your hands. There you are, waving your arms wildly about grasping for the smoke. You look like you're really doing something, but in reality you're not actually grasping anything. Culling chickens will not stop the pandemic. The chickens are simply the Petri dish and the wild birds are the source of the infection. As we cannot kill all of the infected wild birds, the eventual severity of this whole pandemic is entirely up to Mother Nature and time. Scary.
Dan Russ, Grand Blanc, Michigan, USA
This really doesn't have anything to do with intensive farming or our eating habits as such, and I speak as a vegetarian here. Influenza has always and will always be with us and from that point of view, this is just another strain. The difference between this and, say, 1918, is that if the virus mutates and becomes airborne between humans, then our current travel habits will make the problem ten times worse, as was shown with SARS. We need to have disaster management strategies in place worldwide so that if the virus does mutate we can contain it. Let's focus on the big picture, instead of worrying about our budgies.
Katherine, London, UK
A little worried, as I and many people I know keep a few chickens in the garden. Just great at turning table scraps into tasty eggs! You will never buy/eat another mass produced one again. I can't move my girls inside, and I wouldn't want to as 5 of my 11 were rescues from a battery farm and it took months before they were happy outside, so it wouldn't be fair on them.
I hope that bird flu doesn't reach this country. Many farmers are only now starting to get over the foot and mouth disease which devastated the farmers and the countryside that suffered from it. I hope that the scientists in Europe will be able to prevent it from spreading.
Jonathan Gahan, Cirencester, UK
Big business will no doubt be pushing this story, as they would have everything to gain by selling drugs necessary to keep the birds indoors, and it would eliminate awkward competition for battery farmers.
Will Booth, Romsey, UK
The emergence of this virus has nothing to do with farming practices and everything to do with how nature works. Viruses will emerge and they will spread. Evolution's an amazing thing to see in action. You cannot, by the way, contract the virus from properly cooked meat - something the media should be paying attention to. Unless this simple message is put across our poultry farmers will face massive problems.
Andy Jackson, Durham, UK
It does worry me that the government may not be doing enough to prepare for a possible outbreak in England. Can some of these wild birds be tested?.
R Jones, Manchester, England
It has affected quite a few people, I have actually sold my chickens, not just because of the threat but I had to admit I was concerned.
I think the Netherlands are doing the right thing, especially when you think of what happened there two years ago. Other countries should follow their example - after all: better safe than sorry!
Leonne Buur, Spain
How can we possibly 'do' anything? If we as a species were sensible, we would all be vegetarians which would go the furthest to preventing this sort of inevitable outbreak.
Of course I am concerned but what can I do, as an individual? I just have to hope that the experts are doing whatever they can to offer the best protection possible.
David Smith, Scunthorpe, UK
Everyone is panicking about the flu mutating into humans. Some of us who keep rare breeds of poultry are rather more concerned about it getting to our birds! During the Foot and Mouth epidemic Defra killed many thousands of animals unnecessarily. A number of suspected cases proved to be negative on further examination, but the animals had already been slaughtered. Let's hope they won't do such a knee-jerk reaction this time.
Frances Bassom, Guildford Surrey
I hope that scares like this will lead to a closer look at farming practices world-wide. Surely dubious animal farming and meat production practices should be examined and tougher measures put in place to combat these types of diseases spreading.
RH, Leicester, UK
I'm quite concerned about how this will impact on both the farmers and the rest of the population. I have three happy hens living in my back garden - will I be expected to move them indoors? What about the people with parrots in outdoor aviaries? Or the people who hang the budgie's cage outside the back door? If the risk from flock of hens with minimal human contact is that big, then the risk from pet birds who get kissed and cuddled must be enormous, right? And how long should this business of keeping the birds indoors go on? Surely this flu will not be eradicated, so will this be forever? Does this mean that we may never again eat a free-range egg? Is it "really" worth this?
Sian Evans, Hawick, Scotland
Previous reports are that Chinese farmers have for some time been adding anti-viral drugs licensed to treat humans into the feed of their poultry. If this is true, and if this virus does mutate so that it can spread easily between people, then we will have absolutely no defence against it whatsoever. The government "precautions" will be worthless.
Time to stop eating chicken? Or, maybe our fatty, unhealthy, far from natural chickens won't catch bird flu... Just a thought.
CH, Bath, UK