Avian influenza, informally known as bird flu, is an infectious disease triggered by a group of viruses that typically attack birds. Starting in 1997, a subtype of avian influenza referred to as Avian influenza A (H5N1), has been identified in infected humans and is blamed for a small number of human deaths.
Bird Flu Deaths in Humans
The virus responsible for avian H5N1 influenza was initially discovered in South Africa in 1961, in terns (migratory shore birds). While the virus is often deadly in birds; it didn’t seem to result in human deaths, or even serious illness until 1997. In Hong Kong that year, H5N1 bird flu was blamed for 18 verified cases of severe respiratory illness in people, with 6 of those people eventually dying. With the exception of only one of those people, the rest had been in close contact with contaminated poultry. In the case of the person not being near infected birds, the disease was transferred from a child to its parent, but didn’t spread any further.
As of May 2009, there have been 421 laboratory-verified incidents of H1N1 avian influenza in people, with 257 (approximately 60%) of those resulting in death. The illness can affect individuals of any age, sex, and nationality.
Practically anyone diagnosed with avian flu has had some contact with afflicted birds; only a handful caught the illness from being in close contact with an ill family member for an extended period of time. As of May 2009, all verified instances of avian flu in humans have been reported on the continents of Asia or Africa.
There are three kinds of influenza viruses known as types A, B, and C. Only the influenza A virus will result in severe, extensive disease in people. Many diverse strains or subtypes of influenza A virus may lead to sickness in humans . Several other subtypes of influenza A lead to illness in birds, pigs, horses, ferrets, whales, and seals. Quite frequently, a subtype that trigger illness in one species don’t cause the same illness in a different species.
Who can get Bird Flu?
Individuals who are at greatest risk of acquiring avian flu are those who live near or whose jobs put them in close contact with poultry. Most high-risk individuals include those who work in poultry farms, processing plants, or live bird trade markets.
People who live with a family member or friend, who either has avian flu or is in a high-risk group, are in danger of acquiring the illness. Avian flu is not highly contagious though and it doesn’t move easily from bird to human, or human to human, and in many cases where people handle contaminated birds, they don’t contract the illness.
Surprisingly, the Bird Flu may also live in pigs, as pigs are a typical source for animal viruses and human contraction to intersect.
Normally, the virus is spread when an infected bird sheds the virus in its droppings or nasal secretion and the virus is then transferred to an uninfected bird by touching the droppings, contaminated soil or breathing contaminate air.
Humans can contract the disease from unsanitary conditions around poultry processing plants, or even farms where care is not taken and animal droppings are touched with open cuts on the skin or with hands that remain unwashed.
Bird Flu Symptoms
Generally, bird flu symptoms in people are very similar to the flu symptoms and includes:
- fever, body aches
- coughing, sneezing, clearing of throat
- sore throat, stuffy or runny nose
- sore muscles and joints
Additional bird flu symptoms may involve eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory problems, and viral pneumonia. Influenza makes the respiratory system weaker and results in lungs being more susceptible to disease. Some individuals with flu pass away from pneumonia due to a supplementary bacterial infection. Bacteria can develop in the lungs due to the fact the body’s health has been stressed by the influenza virus.
Treatment for Bird Flu
Several anti-viral medications are useful for treating bird flu virus if taken inside of 48 hours following the first sign of bird flu symptoms. These types of medications don’t stop flu, but minimize its symptoms and life span. In the United States, four medicines are now authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as treatment of influenza A viruses in normally healthy people. These include amantadine (Symmetrel), rimantadine (Flumadine), oseltamivir (Tamiflu), and zanamivir (Relenza). Study suggests the avian H5N1 virus is resilient to amantadine and rimantadine, and for that reason, the medications of preference for addressing bird flu are oseltamivir and zanamivir.
Most of the remedy for influenza is supportive and is comprised of bed rest, consuming lots of water to remain hydrated, and make use of a humidifier to help with sinus obstruction and improve breathing.