Amidst the corona epidemic, bird flu cases are increasing in many states of India. Bird flu outbreak has been issued in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. Special monitoring has been asked for poultry farms, reservoirs, and migratory birds. Also, meat is being banned in places where the infection is spread. Below, we describe the symptoms, causes, and treatments of H5N1 bird flu.
What is Bird Flu?
The H5N1 virus can cause severe flu with a high mortality rate. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), transmission among humans is rare. So far, the virus has shown no signs of changing genetically to spread more efficiently among humans. However, due to the severity of the illness that the virus can cause, authorities continue to monitor for these genetic changes. H5N1 bird flu is fatal in 60% of cases.
The first outbreak of H5N1 avian flu in humans occurred in 1997 in Hong Kong. Overall, authorities have reported more than 700 instances of human H5N1 infection in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Indonesia, Vietnam, and Egypt have had the highest numbers of cases.
Below, we investigate whether the H5N1 virus poses a global threat to health. We also describe the symptoms, causes, and treatments of H5N1 bird flu.
What are the Symptoms of Bird Flu?
You may have an H5N1 infection if you experience typical flu-like symptoms such as:
- Respiratory difficulties
- Fever (over 100.4°F or 38°C)
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
If you’re exposed to bird flu, you should notify staff before you arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital. Alerting them ahead of time will allow them to take precautions to protect staff and other patients before caring for you.
What Causes Bird Flu?
Although there are several types of bird flu, H5N1 was the first avian influenza virus to infect humans. The first infection occurred in Hong Kong in 1997. The outbreak was linked to handling infected poultry.
H5N1 occurs naturally in wild waterfowl, but it can spread easily to domestic poultry. The disease is transmitted to humans through contact with infected bird feces, nasal secretions, or secretions from the mouth or eyes.
Consuming properly cooked poultry or eggs from infected birds doesn’t transmit the bird flu, but eggs should never be served runny. Meat is considered safe if it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 165ºF (73.9ºC).
What are Bird Flu Risk Factors?
H5N1 has the ability to survive for extended periods of time. Birds infected with H5N1 continue to release the virus in feces and saliva for as long as 10 days. Touching contaminated surfaces can spread the infection.
You may have a greater risk of contracting H5N1 if you are:
- A poultry farmer
- A traveler visiting affected areas
- Exposed to infected birds
- Someone who eats undercooked poultry or eggs
- A healthcare worker caring for infected patients
- A household member of an infected person
How is Bird Flu Diagnosed?
Receiving a diagnosis of H5N1 avian flu early can lead to a better outlook.
Before arriving at a diagnosis, the doctor will:
- Consider the person’s symptoms
- Look for signs of bird flu
- Ask about recent travel
- Ask about any contact with birds
- Collect a respiratory specimen and send it to a lab for analysis
If a person gives this respiratory sample in the first few days of the illness, the results of the analysis are likely to be more accurate. In 2009, the FDA approved the AVantage A/H5N1 flu test, which can detect the presence of the virus in nose or throat swabs. The test can identify a specific protein, called NS1, which indicates the presence of the virus. Because H5N1 avian flu is rare, a physician would not expect to make this diagnosis, unless the person has been in contact with birds or recently stayed in a place where H5N1 infection is likely.
What’s the Treatment for Bird Flu?
Different types of bird flu can cause different symptoms. As a result, treatments may vary. In most cases, treatment with antiviral medication for patients as per the doctor can help reduce the severity of the disease. However, the medication must be taken within 48 hours after symptoms first appear.
The virus that causes the human form of the flu can develop resistance to the two most common forms of antiviral medications, amantadine, and rimantadine (Flumadine). These medications shouldn’t be used to treat the disease.
Your family or others in close contact with you might also be prescribed antivirals as a preventive measure, even if they aren’t sick. You’ll be placed in isolation to avoid spreading the virus to others. Your doctor may place you on a breathing machine if you develop a severe infection.
What’s the Outlook for Someone with Bird Flu?
The outlook for bird flu infection depends on the severity of the infection and the type of influenza virus causing it. H5N1 has a high mortality rate, while other types don’t.
Some potential complications include:
- Sepsis (a possibly fatal inflammatory response to bacteria and other germs)
- Organ failure
- Acute respiratory distress
Call your doctor if you have flu symptoms within 10 days of handling birds or traveling to areas with a known avian flu outbreak.
How is Bird Flu Prevented?
It is not possible to prevent bird flu from spreading. However, authorities can help communities prepare for possible infections by monitoring bird migration patterns. Vaccination is available for seasonal flu but not bird flu. According to the WHO, vaccines for H5N1 infection have been developed but are not yet ready for widespread use. Individuals can minimize the spread of bird flu by taking precautions. These include:
- Hand Hygiene: Wash the hands regularly with warm water and soap before and after using the bathroom, handling food, or coughing.
- Coughing: It is best to cough into an elbow or tissue and carefully dispose of used tissues also, touching a surface after coughing into the hands can leave the virus on the surface, allowing it to spread.
- Isolation: Those who have symptoms should stay away from public places and avoid contact with people, whenever possible.
The WHO explains that the seasonal flu vaccine does not protect people from H5N1 avian flu.
Frequently Asked Question
Q1.Is bird flu curable?
A.Different types of bird flu can cause different symptoms. As a result, treatments may vary. In most cases, treatment with antiviral medication such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can help reduce the severity of the disease.
Q2.When was the bird flu epidemic?
A.The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China. Asian H5N1 was first detected in humans in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong and has since been detected in poultry and wild birds in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Q3.What country did swine flu come from?
A.The 2009 swine flu outbreak originated in Veracruz, Mexico. Health workers traced the virus to a pig farm in this southeastern Mexican state. A young boy who lived nearby was among the first people to contract the swine flu.
Q4.How is bird flu prevented?
A.Things you can do to prevent bird flu: wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after handling food, in particular raw poultry. Use different utensils for cooked and raw meat. Make sure meat is cooked until steaming hot. Avoid contact with live birds and poultry.
Q5.Can I catch bird flu?
A.Most of the people who get bird flu have had close contact with infected birds or with surfaces that have been contaminated by the birds' saliva, mucous, or droppings. It is also possible to get it by breathing in droplets or dust that contain the virus. Rarely, the virus has spread from one person to another.
Q6.Is there a bird flu vaccine?
A.There is currently no vaccine available to the public. The government does have a supply of a vaccine for one type of H5N1 bird flu virus and could distribute it if there was an outbreak that spread easily from person to person.
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