Avian Influenza Flu (overview – key facts).
There is so much talk about the threat of Bird Flu. What is it? Is it a real problem? Avian Influenza Flu or Bird Flu is a viral infection that is caused by the bird flu virus also known as the H5N1 virus. Scientists believe that all flu viruses are derived from wild birds. The wild birds carry the viruses inside their intestines and rarely get sick from them. The avian bird flu virus is very contagious among the wild birds but is generally not lethal. However, once it infects domestic birds like chickens, ducks and turkeys it is lethal. Outbreaks of bird flu in domestic poultry have been recorded in the following countries: Asia - Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and also in Turkey, Ukraine and Romania. Human cases of the bird flu as of early January have been reported in China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Turkey.
The virus is contracted through contact with saliva, nasal secretions and feces of the wild birds. The virus is also transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces or materials. Once infected, domestic birds either exhibit the “low pathogenic” form which is a milder form of the flu which sometimes goes undetected causing only mild symptoms or the “high pathogenic” form which rapidly spreads through flocks causing death. The Avian influenza virus is an Influenza Type A (virus similar to the human flu virus) found mainly in birds but this particular subtype (H5N1) of virus has recently been infecting the human population. However the risk for human infection is currently low.
In the confirmed cases of infection, the infections were a result of human contact with infected domestic poultry, or contact with contaminated materials and surfaces. If infected with the bird flu virus, humans exhibit the following symptoms: fever, muscle aches, cough, and sore throat; which are typical flu symptoms. Other symptoms include eye infections, severe respiratory diseases and pneumonia and other serious life threatening complications. Symptoms depend on the type of bird flu virus that causes the infection. In order for the bird flu to become a global threat there has to recorded cases of person-to-person transmission. To date, there are limited cases of person-to-person transmission of the virus. Once the virus develops the ability to spread from person to person this may possibly lead to a flu pandemic.
As far as treatment of the virus goes, the avian influenza virus is resistant to the two commonly used vaccines that are use to treat influenza.
There are two other possible anti-viral vaccinations that may be used but there still needs to be more research on them. So, to date there is no definitive treatment regime to treat an the avian influenza virus infection in the human population. There are several promising research studies underway to test a vaccine against the bird flu and a series of clinical studies are also under way. If the worst case scenario was to happen that H5N1 would develop into a form that is contagious among humans. As it is a new virus, the human body doesn’t have a natural defense mechanism to combat this bird flu, therefore infections would be deadly. It is predicted that in the case of bird flu pandemic a staggering 20% of the world population would be affected.
So, Bird Flu. What is fact and what is fiction? Browse the articles on this site to learn more.