For millions of small farmers in East Africa, poultry is not only an important source of income, but daily food as well. Ordering a cull of their flocks in the wake of any bird flu epidemic would be like sentencing them to poverty.
But experts warn that poor preparation and a lack of infrastructure in East Africa could make it home to the worst outbreak of the disease yet.
There are millions of birds migrating south from Europe for the winter, each of them a possible carrier of bird flu. If the disease manages to infect East Africa's largely unregulated and unhygienic poultry business, it could lead to the uncontrolled spread of bird flu.
In East African countries, chicken is almost a national dish. Fried chicken restaurants thrive and most homes with a garden will have a couple of hens.
Major chicken producers in the region warn if bird flu hits, it will be devastating.
In economic terms an outbreak would be a nightmare, if not a disaster for the economy because you are looking at an industry that supports hundreds of thousands of people, said Anthony Wainaina, marketing manager, for Kenchic Ltd, a private company involved in the Kenyan poultry business.
Governments in the region are trying to come to grips with the potential problem.
We are also looking at capturing birds from various sites within Kenya to be able to know what might be the risk areas, said Muchami Muchae, head of the Kenyan government's ornithology department.
There are now efforts to educate the public and play down fears that could hurt the region's important tourism industry.
We also have prepared screening tools and emergency systems we can activate in our airports as soon as we have evidence that man-to-man spread is taking place, said Dr. James Nyikal, Kenya's director of medical services.
But the reality in poverty-stricken East Africa is that key sectors like health care are badly run down. As a result, Kenya, for instance, isn't stockpiling antiviral drugs to treat a human outbreak of bird flu if it happens. It is hoping the World Health Organization will step in and help.( Source CBC News 26 October, 2005).
Read more in-depth on avian flue: www.cbc.ca/news/background/avianflu