Bird Flu: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Risk Factors

Avian influenza, also known as Bird flu, is a viral infection that can infect both birds and humans and some animals. Most types of viruses are limited to birds.

H5N1 is the most frequently reported form of avian influenza (bird flu). It is life-threatening for birds and can easily affect humans and other animals which come into contact with a carrier. As per the WHO, The first detection of H5N1 was in humans in 1997 and almost killed 60 percent of infected people.

At this time, the virus is not spread through human contact. Still, some experts are concerned that the H5N1 virus could pose a pandemic threat to people.

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

You may be infected with the H5N1 virus if you are experiencing symptoms similar to the flu, such as:

  • headache
  • sore throat
  • malaise
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory difficulties
  • fever (over 38°C or 100.4°F)
  • muscle aches
  • runny nose

If you are exposed to avian influenza (Bird flu), you should inform staff prior to your arrival at the physician’s office or hospital. If they are notified in advance, they can take precautions to protect staff and other patients before taking care of you. (1)

What causes bird flu?

Although there are many types of avian influenza (bird flu), the H5N1 virus was the first avian influenza (bird flu) virus to infect people. The first became infected in Hong Kong in 1997. The outbreak was associated with handling infected birds (poultry).

H5N1 virus is naturally present in wild waterfowl, However, it is easy to spread to domestic poultry birds. The disease is transmitted to humans from the feces of infected birds, nasal secretions, or secreted from the mouth or eyes.

Eating well-cooked poultry or eggs from infected birds does not transmit avian influenza; however, eggs should never be served in runny. The meat is considered harmless if cooked at an temperature of 165ºF (73.9°C).

What are bird flu risk factors?

The H5N1 virus is able to survive for a long time. Birds affected by the H5N1 virus continue to release the virus within the faeces and saliva for 10 days. Contact with contaminated areas or surface may spread the infection.

You could be at a higher risk of getting H5N1 if you are:

  • Poultry farmer
  • Travellers visiting affected areas
  • Exposed to infectious birds
  • A person who eats chicken or undercooked eggs
  • A health worker working with infected patients
  • Member of someone’s household who is infected.

How is bird flu diagnosed?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a trial for the detection of bird flu. The test is known as influenza A/H5 (Asian lineage) virus real time RT-PCR primer and probe set. Early results are available in just four hours. However, the test is largely unavailable. (3)

Your physician may also perform the following tests to determine whether the avian influenza virus is present:

  • chest X-ray
  • white blood cell differential
  • nasopharyngeal culture
  • auscultation

Other tests may be carried out to evaluate the workings of your heart, kidneys and liver.

What’s the treatment for bird flu?

There are different types of avian influenza (bird flu) that cause different symptoms. Therefore, the treatments can be different. (2)

In the majority of cases, treating with antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may be helpful in reducing the severity of the illness. However, the drug should be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

The virus responsible for the human form of influenza may become resistant to the two most common forms of antiviral drugs, rimantadine (Flumadine) amantadine. These drugs should not be used in the treatment of the illness.

Your family or other people in close contact with you may also be prescribed antiviral medications as a preventative measure, even if they are not ill. You will be placed in isolation to prevent the propagation of the virus to others.

Your physician may place you on a respiratory tract if you develop a serious infection.

What’s the outlook for someone with bird flu?

The chances of avian influenza infection are dependent on the severity of the infection and the type of bird flu virus that causes it. The mortality rate of H5N1 is high, unlike other types don’t.

Below are some possible complications:

  • organ failure
  • sepsis
  • pneumonia
  • acute respiratory distress

Call your physician if you experience flu-like symptoms 10 days after handling the birds or travel to regions affected by a known avian influenza epidemic (outbreak).

How is bird flu prevented?

Your physician may recommend that you be vaccinated against the flu in order to avoid contracting a human strain of flu. If you develop at the same time avian (bird flu) and human influenza, it may create a new and potentially fatal form of influenza.

The CDC did not issue any travel recommendations for countries affected by H5N1. At the same time, you can reduce your risk by avoiding:

  • markets in the open place
  • exposure to infected birds
  • undercooked chicken (bird flu)

Make sure you wash your hands properly on a regular basis.

FDA approved a vaccine designed to protect against bird flu, but the vaccine is not available to the public at this time. Experts recommend using the vaccine if the H5N1 virus begins spreading in humans.

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