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Q - What is bird flu?
A - Bird flu is an infection of a flu virus known to affect birds, particularly migratory birds, ducks and chickens. Bird flu is also reportedly known to affect pigs and most recently, humans. Thought to affect all species, the virus does not adversely affect ducks. Ducks have developed antibodies against the virus and they only act as carriers of the disease without exhibiting any symptoms of bird flu infection.
Migratory birds are carriers of the bird flu virus and do not show symptoms of bird flu infection. This makes them a crucial factor in the spreading of the disease. Other known diseases are transmitted in one area or a few areas only with a small radius. However, in the case of bird flu, the virus can be transmitted over great distances from one country to another since migratory birds travel from continent to continent. Another factor that contributes to the spreading of the disease is the exportation and importation of infected birds in the international markets.
Q - How is bird flu transmitted?
A - Bird flu is transmitted through direct contact with infected poultry, particularly upon contact with infected skin, saliva, nasal secretions and feces. The virus also spreads through poultry feeds, water reservoirs and cages. When birds are packed closely together, such as in poultry farms, the avian influenza viruses spread very rapidly among them. Transmission of the virus from chickens to humans can occur through contact with equipment, vehicles and clothing that have secretions from infected poultry.
Bird flu virus is resilient. It can survive in contaminated manure at very low temperatures for at least three months. The virus can survive in water for up to four days in hot temperatures and up to 30 days in cold temperatures. However, heat and disinfectants such as formalin and other iodine compounds are able to kill the virus.
Q - Who are at risk?
A - Many people mistakenly believe that they can contract the bird flu virus if they eat cooked chicken and eggs. However, chickens cooked at 56 degrees Celsius for three hours or at 60 degrees Celsius for half an hour are safe. The only way that people can contract the virus is if they come in direct contact with secretions and feces of infected poultry. Poultry raisers and those who are in the poultry and livestock industry are highly susceptible to contracting the virus. Those who prepare chickens and eggs of infected poultry may also be infected if the virus is fresh enough to infect them.
Q - Is there a possibility of human to human transmission of the bird flu virus?
A - Fortunately, there is still no sign of the bird flu virus being transmitted from one human to another. There have been cases of humans being infected with the virus and dying from it, but these people acquired the infection directly from birds and not from another infected person. This needs to be emphasized because there are some who think that the disease could be contracted from an infected human similar to how ordinary flu is transmitted.
To date, there is no evidence of human to human transmission of the bird flu virus. However, many scientists believe that human to human transmission of the bird flu virus is highly possible because the virus is can easily mutate and is constantly evolving. Mutation of the virus may lead to human to human transmission and scientist say this can occur in two ways. One, the virus enters the human body and mutates within the body, and two, the virus combines with ordinary human flu in the body of humans or pigs, which are susceptible to both kinds of flu.
Niall Cinneide publishes a bird flu news website, and an informational site with reports and articles about bird flu transmission at http://www.bird-flu-alert.info
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