Avian influenza (AI), or “bird flu,” is a contagious respiratory disease of animals caused by influenza viruses that typically infect birds. While AI viruses are characteristically species-specific, they can acquire the ability to infect humans. One AI virus, classified as the highly pathogenic H5N1, has affected more than 80 species of wild birds, led to the death or destruction of millions of domestic birds, and caused illness in hundreds of humans, killing more than half. Most humans have become ill with the H5N1 virus through close contact with infected birds. However, public health officials are concerned that the virus could develop into a form that could easily spread from human to human, creating an outbreak of illness that could rapidly spread around the world ...

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