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Infecting wild birds as well as domestic poultry, avian influenza can be either mild or highly fatal and rapidly spreading. Domesticated birds can contract the disease through direct contact with infected birds and contaminated items (such as machinery, water or cages). The disease is controlled by culling infected populations, and birds.

Authorities around the world are worried that the severe form of the disease, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), could evolve so that it is easily spread from birds to humans, and then from person to person, causing a global pandemic.