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Avian Flu: How to treat the disease and protect the susceptible.
This article discusses how avian flu functions, why many birds are apparently safe from it and what can be done to protect those that are susceptible, along with treatment for those with early symptoms. You will find many complex biological terms but effort has been made to keep it readable. Avian flu has now become as devastating to certain wild birds as it has been for those within the commercial food sector where millions have been culled in the hope of containing the virus. Clearly containment is no longer possible and so efforts must be made to control the virus in a different way.
You will read that not all birds can be affected by this disease. Nature doesn’t kill them all, but the current culling procedure does and so those that are resistant, or simply not susceptible are being culled as well.
Avian flu is spreading at an alarming rate and is seemingly ubiquitous across the country. I have struggled with the concept that there is no cure and so immersed myself in virology in the hope that I might gain an understanding about the virus. I was able to lift useful leads from the research documents written by scientists that are qualified to undertake such intense and thorough work, and from this research I learned of a remarkable product that allows them to recover. The bottom-line for me was that this is influenza – not a new virus that we know nothing about and so the ‘no cure’ label did not fit well with me. I have read umpteen scientific documents, listened repeatedly to many virology lectures, clarifying each unknown word until I understood and so the next time more went in - until it made sense. I learned about viruses generally, but the focus was on influenza, H5N1 and the methods used to disrupt them.
I have had meetings with officials within Defra and so going public with this information was the next step. I am proud of the knowledge I’ve acquired and need to pass this on. I love the many birds we have and am privileged to live amongst them. They cannot read – so it was up to me!
This information will be essential reading to bird and nature lovers, and I recommend anyone keeping or caring for high risk birds to read, read again and understand.
Influenza is a virus that has been around for hundreds of years. There are many different variations and not all will affect human beings just as not all will affect any specific animal. It might surprise you to learn that every variation of Influenza A can been found in birds – apart from recently discovered bat specific variants. Aquatic birds from 2 sub-species are considered reservoirs of Influenza A. Anseriformes (ducks, geese and swans) and Charadriiformes (Shorebirds such as gulls and waders) carry influenza in their gastrointestinal tract and distribute via their faeces. The birds are asymptomatic to the virus and are simply the carrier. This is all part of nature’s complex bio-diversity mechanism. Every creature, plant, object in fact pretty much everything around the world contains viruses – useful, harmful or otherwise.
Since the nineteenth century domestic birds were recorded as suffering outbreaks of a disease that was referred to then as ‘fowl plague’ – but it was in the 1950s that this disease was identified as a strain of Influenza A. In the 1980s influenza viruses were classified based on their surface proteins. This virus later became referred to as H5N1 and colloquially as avian flu / bird flu. H5N1 became a major global concern and from the early 2000s, several large outbreaks occurred resulting in huge culling of kept birds.
How does a bird get infected?
A virion is a fully packaged particle with the capability to infect. The Influenza virion is a familiar shape to us nowadays since COVID-19 - a sphere with spikes. There are multiple spikes (proteins) of which there are two types spread around the surface. These proteins are called Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase (The H and N as seen in the categorising of the virus.) The RNA (ribonucleic acid) is found within the virion and these contain the instructions if you will for reproducing more virions. The bird ingests a virion from a contaminated area and the virion now needs to find a cell within the bird that is suitable for it to attach to and start work. Virions attach to a host cell via the hemagglutinin spiked protein. The bird’s host cells have sugars on the surface receptors along with sialic acid and if a suitable type of sialic acid is available then the hemagglutinin will attach, insert the RNA into the host cell which will then start producing influenza virions. Once a new virion has been created it needs to be released and this is achieved by the neuraminidase spike (a protein) which will cleave off the hemagglutinin from the sialic acid receptor and off it goes. This newly created virion will look for another host cell to attach to and before long too many host cells become compromised and the bird starts to show symptoms of sickness until eventually it is overwhelmed - and succumbs to the virus.
Structure of Influenza, showing neuraminidase marked as NA and hemagglutinin as HA
sialic acid receptor on host cells is important as to why a specific
influenza virus cannot infect all creatures. Human being cells for
example mostly have sialic acid receptors with the atomic value a2,6.
H5N1 virion requires sialic acid receptors with a2,3
and so without this important value the virion will simply remain
unattached and incapable of infection. Contrary to what is believed
amongst the general public, not all birds are susceptible to avian flu
and this is due to the cells within specific birds having compatible
cells that the H5N1 virion requires. Swans, geese, ducks and many
seabirds have a2,3
receptors in abundance and so are highly susceptible to the virus.
Pigeons for example have very few a2,3
receptors and so the virus can only infect what is available within
the bird. Such birds may just feel slightly sick but fortunately for
them their immune system stands a chance to fight back and make the
bird resistant should it come in contact with it again.
A common symptom is for the birds to become blind and this is due to the epithelial cells on the surface of the cornea also having sialic acid a2,3 receptors. These cells become influenza producing cells and are no longer transparent and so the surface of the eye becomes cloudy, with a blue tinge. This is called Corneal Opacity.
What can be done?
We’re familiar with antibiotics. These attack and kill bacteria but do not work with viruses. Antivirals however disrupt the manufacturing stages of a virus and so prevent further production. One such disruptive approach is to prevent the neuraminidase from releasing the newly formed virion. Neuraminidase Inhibitors nullify the neuraminidase protein and are very effective at essentially pressing pause on the virus. If it can be paused then no further host cells get compromised and the immune system should prevail. So long as the infection is caught before the bird is too sick then they’re quite capable of recovery – and often in just a few days.
There are approved Neuraminidase Inhibitors available for human use. Oseltamivir (known as Tamiflu) Zanamivir and Peramivir are the commonly used drugs available. A Google search for Avian Flu Cure will bring you straight to this information! There goes the ‘no cure’ belief.
Interestingly there are many naturally occurring plant extracts that disrupt this protein and some are very effective Neuraminidase Inhibitors. The product we use featured frequently in many of the complex research papers that I studied and all of them concluded that this product was very effective - and to my amazement it was available in this country as a food supplement from a major online company. Baicalin is a flavonoid from the east Asian flowering plant - Scutellaria Baicalensis. Baicalin has been extensively tested around the world to determine its efficacy as an antiviral against numerous viruses. It has been proven to be an excellent treatment for hepatitis, influenza and Marek's disease that affects chickens, along with many other viruses – even cancer cells. There is an incredible amount of research showing how effective Baicalin is in regard to a variety of health conditions. It is widely used throughout the world in beauty products such as anti-aging face and eye creams. It is also deemed to be of great benefit to the immune system whilst it responds to a viral attack. Baicalin has been used in Chinese medicine for over two thousand years.
There has been widespread devastation along our rivers, lakes, and coastal shorelines. The casualties of avian flu in the wild have been shown time and time again to predominantly be from the same breeds. Defra release daily alerts when cases are found at a commercial or private premises but these simply state poultry or non-poultry. Their weekly website (shown at the bottom of this article) shows wild cases that test positive and the breed for each case is listed. Swans and geese feature most frequently along with birds of prey, gulls and of course - seabirds.
Historically the cases of avian influenza in the UK would be in wintertime only. The reason for this is the migratory birds that carry the virus asymptomatically would fly to the UK from October, spread the virus in their faeces, and our susceptible birds would become infected. Wildlife rescues would be on high alert until mid-March when these migratory birds would fly back, and the remaining infected birds would die out and consequently so would the virus – until next winter. In 2022 however the virus remained with us - with multiple daily outbreaks across the country. This would suggest that many of the UK's wild bird population have now become asymptomatic to H5N1 as they are to all the other strains of Influenza A virus that they have carried for hundreds of years. Wild ducks have been referred to as the Trojan Horse for avian flu and so how can such a virus ever be contained? It’s estimated that the UK has over 250,000 mallard ducks and this rises to more than double over winter. Every asymptomatic carrier of H5N1 will spread the virus everywhere they go and so surely now is the time for the government to test and approve the use of Baicalin, and wild outbreaks be treated by those wiling and capable – empowered by the knowledge you’re reading.
Natural recovery amongst the susceptible relies on the immune system alone to defend and hopefully cure the bird. Young swans and geese appear to have a poor immune response although in our observations geese cope better from a year old whereas swans struggle especially in their first years but will also battle with the virus as adults. Wild ducks are mostly resistant (or not susceptible.)
There has been much research and speculation as to why wild ducks are not affected by the virus. Their cellular make up matches the requirements for H5N1 to infect yet it’s often commented that the ducks seem fine. What makes them spread asymptomatically or simply not become infected at all whilst geese and swans suffer? We have many of the answers nowadays – but research continues.
What we are doing – and what you can do too
We have seen many young swans and geese in the wild that have started to show early symptoms of avian flu - and Baicalin was administered orally where possible. The recovery was often remarkable and quick – sometimes by the next day and from a single dose. Oral administration is perfect for this condition as the cells that are mostly affected are in the gastrointestinal tract and so drinking the product flushes through the entire channel where the influenza cells reside and so the neuraminidase protein gets nullified. Eyes can also be affected but I’ll get to that later.
Every bird we become involved with during general rescue work receives a dose of Baicalin in addition to whatever they may have otherwise required from the call-out. We occasionally add Baicalin to our drinkers and feeders as a preventative measure so that all birds receive a dose whilst they appear perfect and healthy. The incubation period for avian flu is just a few days but data varies from 2-5 days to 1-14 depending on what you read. It’s of paramount importance to get Baicalin into those that are susceptible when it becomes apparent that the birds are becoming lethargic, disinterested in food, blue eyes, necks drooping etc. These are the early symptoms and it’s fair to assume that all susceptible birds in that area will have ingested the virus but may not be showing symptoms yet. Once a bird is spinning in circles or doing erratic body movements then it’s often too late and they are likely to die soon.
Baicalin can be mixed with absorbent waterfowl food so that those that are still keen to eat can receive the treatment before it becomes a problem to them – and so reduce the severity of the issue in that area. Those that come out on land to feed could receive their usual treats in a tray of water that has Baicalin applied. The key is to get the solution inside them whether that’s by the public feeding – or by wildlife rescues administering orally to the ones that are not eating. We drop the Baicalin mixture onto the eyes to disrupt the virus and prevent blindness. We have seen vision return within 24 hours and often perfect eyes from day two. I have even sprayed this onto my own eyes without any discomfort – it just felt like water. If I’m prepared to test on them then I should be prepared to test on myself! We all take Baicalin at the sanctuary and one volunteer with a long-standing sore throat complaint swears it went away because of Baicalin. It has after-all been taken by humans for thousands of years.
An Interesting link at the bottom shows that contact lenses have been made with Baicalin to prevent a variety of eye conditions and Chinese patents exist for Baicalin eye sprays.
I’ve no doubt that with the knowledge in this article, those that keep and care for susceptible birds can help greatly to reduce the traumatic scenes we’re all experiencing across the country – and of course, the world. We cannot eradicate the virus but like Covid we can learn to live with it. Remember – it’s not just influenza that Baicalin is effective against. It is a broad-spectrum antiviral, and I recommend that you do your own research on this remarkable powder.
For those capable of oral administration - half a gram of Baicalin mixed with 20ml of water has been sufficient with swans and geese (we don’t need to do wild ducks) that are not showing symptoms yet. For those with symptoms we administer 60ml which equates to 1.5g of Baicalin. Such birds should ideally be marked for daily visits and repeat the dosage. The same mixture ratio of 1:40 / Baicalin:Water is dropped onto the eyes. Hold the head flat to the side so that a pool forms in and around the eye manipulating the edges so that the liquid makes full contact and wait for the nictitating membrane to open and close to ensure it coats the cornea. Give it a few moments then turn the head and do the other side. Ideally keep the bird from the water for a few minutes so that it doesn’t get washed off immediately. Remember to disinfect yourself and all items that have been in contact. Biosecurity measures should remain a top priority to protect yourselves and others. We may have something that treats them, but this is a virus and utmost caution must be given. We use F10SC mixed to 100:1 and spray liberally over hands, feet, arms, the kayaks etc. Where possible thoroughly dry items afterwards as viruses require moisture and will not last long in arid conditions. It’s good practice to have different attire when out on site and change to your home clothing before returning.
Defra have told me that it’s not illegal to medicate in the wild – so we’ve been kayaking up to swans that are looking unwell and medicating whilst on the water and moving on to the next one. Avian Flu is a notifiable disease and so if you notice your own birds showing symptoms then you are legally required to notify Defra.
Those that are willing and capable can start to make a difference!
Baicalin doesn’t kill the virus – it stalls the spread within them and so the immune system kills the virus – and the immune system has memory – and will know how to do it next time!
The following Facebook recovery videos show what Baicalin has achieved for swans lucky enough to receive our help:-
Usage ideas for the general public
Most of this document is targeted for the persons working in wildlife rescue but the domestic owner and general public can consider these ideas for helping their flock – at home or otherwise.
Baicalin is not a vaccine and so won’t prevent infection. It is an antiviral, which disrupts the virus if an infection has begun – the earlier the better. Symptoms don’t begin straight away and so if the virus can be stopped before symptoms become apparent then you are not breaking the law – you are simply preventing the disease from getting to that stage.
Poultry owners can give Baicalin as a preventative measure by placing it in their drinkers – perhaps once a week. The mix of 1g:40ml / Baicalin:Water has worked many times for noticeably sick swans that have had this amount given by expert handlers, whilst twice the amount of water has still prevented those around them from becoming sick. Presently, nowhere else is discussing efforts to disrupt the virus and so this information will change as knowledge grows and hopefully when others publish their findings. For domestic poultry consider adding twice the water, so 1g of Baicalin to 80ml of water and put this ratio of mix into their drinker, and once it’s all gone – top up as you normally would with water. This way they are drinking a reasonably concentrated mix initially. Do your own research by all means, but Baicalin appears to be very safe and I haven’t found anything to suggest otherwise. We have hundreds of ducks, geese and swans at the sanctuary and once a week I go around with watering cans in this manner pouring into the food trays before the grains go in – and we have some buckets with just the Baicalin mix in so they can drink as they wander.
Those wishing to help the wild swans and geese can give Baicalin in water with food if their birds come out to land. Alternatively, some places have found placing a long seed tray on the bank works well as the birds remain in the water and drink the mix along with their food. Whatever works for you and your flock. Each location is different and some places are not suitable for the birds to come out onto land. Some people have soaked mixed corns overnight in the Baicalin mix, whilst others pour this mixture over floating food which absorbs very quickly. Don’t do it so much that the floating food is soggy, but enough so that it soaks in and this way it doesn’t disperse when it enters the water. There isn’t a legal requirement to report birds with symptoms in the wild and so the ideal combination should a wild flock show signs of becoming infected (disinterested in food, necks hanging low, eyes with a blue tinge) is for your local rescue to orally administer to the ones that are needing help whilst the public step up the Baicalin feeding to those still interested in eating – and do so repeatedly until the problem has passed.
Wild outbreaks tend to calm after about 3 weeks. Research has shown that the virus can remain in the water for up to 150 days. Not all birds are susceptible and so in this initial 3 week period, those that are susceptible either die or recover whilst others may have already developed resistance. It doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away if no more swans/geese are dying. All it takes is for a young swan or goose to fly in from elsewhere and make contact with the still infected water. This won’t cause a further outbreak as all previously remaining birds are now likely to be ok but the new visitors may well need to receive the feeding plan discussed here – or if showing symptoms, a call to your local rescue to help.
activity of Baicalin against influenza A : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25078390/
properties of Baicalin: A Concise Review : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8493948/
Baicalin-Modified Contact Lens for Preventing Infection : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8926214/
Baicalensis, the golden herb from the garden of Chinese medicinal
plants : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031759/
cases as compiled by Defra : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/avian-influenza-in-wild-birds
Fascinating Effects of Baicalein on Cancer : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5085714/
Ducks: The "Trojan Horses" of H5N1 influenza : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2749972/