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Avian Influenza; Pandemic Or Panic?

Aug 18, 2007
What is Avian Influenza?

Avian Influenza, more commonly known as bird flu, is an infection caused by bird viruses, which are naturally found among birds. Birds usually carry these viruses but don't usually get sick from them. Avian Influenza is very contagious, however, and can make domestic birds like ducks, chickens and turkeys very ill. The infected birds carry the virus in their saliva and excretions, and domesticated birds get infected when they get in contact with these excretions. The domestic birds can then either get mildly ill, which just shows in a few ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production, or they can get severely ill and die.

What is the risk of Avian Influenza to human health?

The problems to humans arise when humans come into contact with domesticated birds or surfaces where their excretions or secretions have been. It is most unusual for humans to get infected. The risk of the H5N1 strain virus infection of humans is very low. However, for the few people that have become infected by the virus the infection has caused severe illness, often fatal.

The reason most people are worried, is the potential for avian influenza viruses to mutate into a new human virus. This means the virus slowly changes into a new influenza virus which can easily infect humans and which can easily spread from person to person, causing a pandemic.

The H5N1 strain is not the only possible source for a human influenza pandemic. Other Avian influenza subtypes have caused human infections as well, and thus also pose a threat. This means the other influenza strains that affect other animals, such as the pig influenza viruses, also have the potential to mutate into new human strains.

There has been no evidence of effective human-to-human spread of the H5N1 strain, and thus there is no evidence that a new influenza pandemic is threatening. Nevertheless, one cannot be too careful, and continued monitoring is therefore necessary.

What are the symptoms of Avian Influenza in humans?

Symptoms of avian influenza or bird flu in humans are sometimes similar to human influenza-like symptoms for example a fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches. Sometimes symptoms include eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases or acute respiratory distress, and other severe complications that could be life-threatening. The symptoms may depend on the strain of virus that caused the infection.

What is the treatment for Avian Influenza?

Studies done in laboratories suggest that normal prescription medicines for human influenza viruses should work in treating avian influenza in humans. However, viruses can become resistant to these drugs, with the result that these medications will not always work. Additional studies are needed to determine which medicines work best.

How do you prevent Avian Influenza?

The only prevention method humans have devised against the Avian Influenza or bird flu is a vaccination against the illness. However, common sense prevails, and you should know that when you are in contact with any animal or infected person, to wash your hands well before touching yourself in the eyes or face or eating.
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