FACT SHEET: HISTORY OF AVIAN FLU

  • Historically avian flu was known as fowl plague.
  • The first cases were diagnosed in Northern Italy in the 1870s.
  • It’s easily confused with Newcastle disease.
  • The first bird-to-human transmission was in Hong Kong in 1997.

The 19th century

1870s: detection of avian influenza in domestic birds

  • Avian influenza (AI) was first noted in domestic birds by veterinarians in northern Italy in 1878. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Preface” p. xv) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  •  AI was known by a number of names in different countries, mainly as “fowl plague”, but also as Brunswick disease and Geflugelpest. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Preface” p. xv) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  •  Fowl plague started as a mild problem in a few villages. It then suddenly became virulent, killing almost all affected chickens. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Preface” p. xv) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  •  The disease also affected turkeys and geese, but rarely domestic ducks. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Preface” p. xv) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  •  The fowl plague outbreak is relatively recent compared to other poultry diseases. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Preface” p. xv) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)

 1880-1890s: spread of AI

  • It spread from Italy into other parts of Europe. By the early 1900s it had reached as far as Russia and Britain. (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  • By the 20th century, the virus had spread to most of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, China, Japan, and North and South America. (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)

The 20th century

Newcastle disease and confusion

  • The first description of Newcastle disease appeared in 1927. It caused confusion because it had similar symptoms and mortality rates to fowl plague. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145) (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)
  • Newcastle disease was also being called fowl pest, pseudo-fowl plague and pseudo-fowl pest. This added to the confusion. (Swayne, “Global Nature” p. 124)

Identification and classification

  • It was not originally understood that there are different AI strains. So it’s difficult to identify the viruses that caused historical fowl plague outbreaks. (Swayne “Global Nature” pp. 124-5)
  • The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) was founded in 1924. Statistical collections on animal disease epidemics didn’t appear until a number of years later. So early figures are unavailable. (Kaleta and Rulke p. 145)
  • Low pathogenetic AI (LPAI) was first observed in German chickens in 1949. It wasn’t identified as LPAI until 1960. (Swayne “Global Nature” p. 125)
  • In 1955, fowl plague outbreaks were finally identified as being caused by influenza A virus. AI was distinguished from Newcastle disease. (Swayne “Global Nature” pp. 124-5) (Kaleta and Rulke p. 148)
  • While the 1878 fowl plague outbreak was high pathogenic AI (HPAI), consistent diagnostic and control strategies for HPAI weren’t developed until the late 1950s. (Swayne “Global Nature” p. 128)
  • The term “highly pathogenic avian influenza” (HPAI) was universally adopted as an official term at the First International Symposium on Avian Influenza in 1981. (Swayne “Global Nature” p. 124)
  • The term “low pathogenic avian influenza” was internationally adopted at the Firth International Symposium on Avian Influenza in 2002. (Swayne “Global Nature” p. 125)

A global disease

  • AI was a disease of birds until 1997 when H5N1 HPAI appeared in humans in Hong Kong. This made AI, aka “bird flu” more widely known internationally amongst professionals and the public. (Swayne, p. xv)
  • After 1997, H5N1 HPAI spread throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. This made it the largest widespread animal health crisis in the past century. (Swayne, p. xv)

By Elizabeth Schoales


Licensing

You’re free to re-use, edit and even claim this research as your own. Though if you do give us credit, please tell your readers if you’ve made amendments.


Sources:

Kaleta, Erhard F. and Catherine P.A. Rülke. “The Beginning and Spread of Fowl Plague (H7 High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza) Across Europe and Asia (1878-1955).” Avian Influenza. David E. Swayne, ed. pp. 145-89

Stallknecht, David E. and Justin D. Brown. “Ecology of Avian Influenza in Wild Birds.” Avian Influenza David Ed. Swayne, ed. pp. 43-58

Swayne, David E. “Epidemiology of Avian Influenza in Agricultural and Other Man-made Systems.” Avian Influenza, David E. Swayne, ed. pp. 59-85

Swayne, David E. “Preface”. Avian Influenza, David E. Swayne, ed. pp. xv-xx

Swayne, David E. “The Global Nature of Avian Influenza.” Avian Influenza, David E. Swayne, ed. pp. 123-43

Witter L., Richard. “Foreward”. Avian Influenza, David E. Swayne, ed. p. xiii

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