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Bird Flu

This page provides general information about the bird flu you hear about in the news.
It is sometimes referred to as avian bird flu or Asian bird flu. There are 15 different strains of bird flu virus. Information here covers the type of bird flu that most affects humans, which is the avian influenza A (H5N1). Within the H5N1 strain, this virus has mutated into more than 200 variations.

What is Bird Flu?

Bird flu is an infection caused by the avian influenza virus. Quite simply avian means bird and flu means it is caused by a virus.

All over the world wild birds carry flu viruses in their intestines. Birds get flu viruses almost as commonly as people catch colds. The bird flu is just as contagious between birds as the common cold is among humans. When domesticated birds catch this bird flu, especially chickens, ducks, and turkeys, these birds get very sick and most die because they have less resistance than their wild relatives.
The most important things you need to know about bird flu:
  • It is not yet a pandemic.
  • It is expected to become a pandemic within 3 years.
  • There is no vaccine to protect you from the H5N1 bird flu virus.
  • World wide, the mortality rate is 58% for those who are hospitalized.
  • In a pandemic, any person who catches this Asian bird flu could spread it for two days before they show any symptoms.
  • If a pandemic starts you will most likely no medical care (no matter where you live) and have to rely on homeopathic or home remedies.

What is avian influenza A (H5N1)?

Influenza A (H5N1) virus - also called "H5N1 virus" - is a subtype of the influenza A virus that occurs mainly in birds. It was first identified in terns (a bird in South Africa) in 1961. Like all bird flu viruses, the H5N1 virus circulates among birds and is on its way to spreading worldwide. It is very contagious among birds, and is deadly.

The most common name for this flu is bird flu or avian influenza. It is also known as killer flu, bird virus, mega flu, influenza A, influenza B, influenza C. The A, B & C are types but there are also subtypes: H1N1, H1N2, H1N3, H2N2, H3N2, H3N8, H5N1, H7N3, H7N7. The subtype H5N1 is one that mutates quickly. It is the virus that could turn into a flu pandemic.

A pandemic is an order of magnitude larger than an epidemic, kind of like an ocean is an order of magnitude larger than a lake.

Where is the bird flu now?

(January 2009) Bird flu outbreaks (Influenza A, H5N1) have occurred in the following countries (as of May 20, 2009):

Note: Due to changes in the World Health Organization, data on the total number of cases and deaths in each country is no longer available in English. Hum...
  • Afghanistan - 8 Human Cases, 5 Deaths
  • Albania
  • Algeria
  • Azerbaijan - 8 Human Cases, 5 Deaths
  • Bangladesh - 1 Human Cases, 0 Deaths
  • Bosnia
  • Bulgaria
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burma - 1 Human Case, 0 Deaths
  • Cambodia - 19 Human Cases, 16 Deaths
  • Cameroon
  • Canada - 1 Human Case, 1 Death
  • China - 42 Human Cases, 28 Deaths
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Dominican Republic
  • Djibouti - 1 Human Case, 0 Deaths
  • Denmark
  • Egypt - 157 Human Cases, 55 Deaths
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • Herzegovina
  • Hungary
  • India - 1 Human Case, 0 Deaths
  • Indonesia - 141 Human Cases, 115 Deaths
  • Iran
  • Iraq - 3 Human Cases, 2 Deaths
  • Ivory Coast
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Korea
  • Kuwait
  • Laos - 2 Human Cases, 2 Deaths
  • Malaysia
  • Mongolia
  • Myanmar - 1 Human Case, 0 Deaths
  • Nepal
  • Niger
  • Nigeria - 1 Human Case, 1 Death
  • Pakistan - 3 Human Cases, 1 Deaths
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Siberia
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sudan
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand - 25 Human Cases, 17 Deaths
  • Tibet
  • Togo
  • Turkey - 12 Human Cases, 4 Deaths
  • Ukraine
  • Vietnam - 112 Human Cases, 60 Deaths
  • WHO Totals 412 cases of which 256 died which means 62% of those infected died.
*Note: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that a low pathogenicity strain of avian influenza (LPAI) poses no threat to human health, as opposed to HPAI (High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza). What they don't say is that the low pathogenicity strain of avian influenza can mutate into a high pathogenicity strain just like it did in the Italian 1999 to 2000 epidemic. In Chile a LPAI mutated into HPAI in only one month.

More than 600 million birds in these countries have either died from the disease or were killed in an attempt to control outbreaks.

Since migratory birds carry the H5N1 virus, it is not possible to stop the spread of this disease. It is now in the process of spreading worldwide.

When bird flu strikes an area and poultry from that area is banned for export, some farmers are resorting to smuggling to avoid financial ruin.

How does bird flu spread in birds?

Infected birds spread the flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Most susceptible birds contract the bird flu when they have contact with contaminated excretions or surfaces that are contaminated with excretions (bird droppings).

Do bird flu viruses infect humans?

Bird flu viruses don't usually infect humans, but this is changing. It seems that the bird flu virus is one mutational step away from passing from person to person. Since 1997, several hundred cases of human infection with bird flu viruses have occurred. In Indonesia, of the 68 confirmed human cases of H5N1 infection, 51 have died. (as of 9/28/06)

How does bird flu spread in people?

It is believed that most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry, bird droppings and contaminated surfaces. That is, it is currently being transmitted from bird to human.

What is the risk to humans?

The fear is that virus will mutate into something that will be able to transfer from human to human. This makes the risk to humans from the bird flu (H5N1) virus enormous. When this happens, the virus is likely to spread world wide in a very shot time. Experts agree that it is only a matter of time before this bird flu pandemic occurs (A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of disease). Amid growing concern about this bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released several reports on this coming pandemic. Their most optimistic scenario is that 2 million people will die worldwide, and the toll could potentially reach 150 million or higher.

Because the bird flu virus does not commonly infect people, there is little or no immune system protection against them. The death rate for cases already reported has been over 50 percent.

When the H5N1 virus adapts to infect people, it will spread easily from person to person causing an "influenza pandemic".

The "Spanish flu" pandemic that took place in 1918 killed an estimated 40 million people. It has now been confirmed that the Spanish flu was a form of bird flu. The mortality rate for that flu was less than 5%. The

During an outbreak of bird flu among poultry (domesticated chicken, ducks, turkeys), there is a risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with excretions from infected birds. In such situations, people should avoid contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces, and should be careful when handling and cooking poultry. Appropriate cooking of the meat kills the virus.

The risk is great enough that most governments are recommending that households should keep at least a two week supply of food and water on hand. Some are recommending 3 months of supplies plus a survival kit of some kind. With a quarentene situation you may find you have to camp out in your own home.

The World Health organization will hold a meeting on avian influenza and pandemic influenza November 7th through the 9th, 2005.

This threat is serious enough that President George W. Bush asked several drug companies to cooperate in plans to produce antiviral drugs and vaccines. Secretary Michael Leavitt (U.S. Health and Human Services) has gone abroad to urge other countries to increase their capacity to manufacture antiviral drugs and vaccines. He has been quoted as saying, "Between 6 and 12 times the amount of vaccine used to treat ordinary flu is required to produce immunity to H5N1." This makes it sound like he doesn't know what he is talking about. We believe that he confused anti-viral medications with vaccines. Treating the bird flu virus with anti-viral medications does require several times the normal amount but a single dose of the correct vaccine is all that is required. And that is the problem, at present there is no vaccine.

How viruses spread

Influenza viruses are spread from person to person primarily through the coughing and sneezing of infected persons. The typical incubation period for the influenza virus is 1 to 4 days, with an average of 2 days. Adults can infect others from the day before symptoms begin through approximately 5 days after the onset of illness. Children can be infectious for more than 10 days and young children can spread the virus for several days before the onset of illness. People that are severely immunocompromised can spread the virus for weeks or months.

The incubation period for bird flu ranges from 3-7 days depending on the isolate, dose, species, and age of the person infected.

How long will the bird flu last

Typical influenza illness lasts from 3 to 7 days for most people, although the cough and malaise can persist for more than 2 weeks. This is much worse. The bird flu virus is far more lethal than the SARS virus (severe acute respiratory syndrome) that struck Asia in 2003. Some people have suffered for months after the disease has run its course.

Symptoms of bird flu

What are the symptoms of the H5N1 bird flu strain in humans? We are still researching this. In the previous outbreaks of other bird flu there were a range of symptoms when the bird flu infected humans. Typically they were as follows:
  • normal flu-like symptoms
  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • sore muscle - aches
  • eye infections
  • pneumonia
  • severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress)
  • and other severe and life-threatening complications
In one case, a four-year-old Vietnamese boy seemed to have encephalitis, a brain inflammation characterized by high fever and vomiting, followed by coma and, often, death. After he died, the H5N1 virus was found in his spinal fluid. The symptoms of bird flu will depend on what form the virus mutates into when it goes worldwide.

How is bird flu in humans treated?

At present there is no vaccine to protect humans against infections caused by H5N1 avian flu but efforts are underway to produce one. According to the CDC in Atlanta, studies suggest that the prescription medicines approved for human flu viruses would work in preventing bird flu infection in humans. But this has not been proven.

Two antiviral medications commonly used for influenza are Amantadine and Rimantadine. The bird flu has become resistant to both. ALL of the current Viet Nam strains of the bird flu virus have become Amantadine resistant.

According to experts in Australia, China is suspected of causing the bird flu crisis by feeding Amantadine to chickens in an attempt to prevent influenza. But instead, it actually *caused* the virus to mutate.

According to the CDC, two other antiviral medications, Zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu), would probably work to treat flu caused by the H5N1 virus. Studies have since proven that Tamiflu does not work against the bird flu H5N1 virus. Although Tamiflu (oseltamivir) has been proven ineffective, it is the still the most sought after antiviral drug in the world.

What is Tamiflu?

Tamiflu (generic name: Oseltamivir) is an anti-viral drug that can help reduce the symptoms and shorten the recovery time from influenza A and B. Although Tamifu is not a vaccine, many countries are stockpiling this drug as their main defense against the bird flu virus (H5N1). Read our report on Tamiflu.

A vaccine against one influenza virus type or subtype confers limited or no protection against another type or subtype of influenza.

Health officials in some countries are concerned that widespread use of Tamiflu among patients with influenza could lead to the development of resistant strains of the flu. This could potentially make the drug useless. This possibility is significant enough that some health officials are advising doctors against writing the prescriptions.

Other antiviral agents include rimantadine and zanamivir but antiviral medications are not a substitute for vaccination. Efforts to develop a specific vaccine are hampered by not knowing what form the virus will take when it mutates.

Update September 30, 2005: Reports from Hong Kong state that the bird flu virus H5N1 is now proven to be resistant to Tamiflu. Every country in the world now needs to reassess their defenses against this disease.

No Bird Flu Vaccine for some

If you are allergic to eggs (anaphylactic hypersensitivity), you should let your health care provider know about it before receiving any vaccination. Eggs are used in the manufacture of most flu vaccines. Although some people are allergic to eggs they can still benefit from a vaccine after they receive an appropriate allergy evaluation and desensitization treatment.

Persons with acute febrile illness usually should not be vaccinated until after their symptoms have abated.

Bird flu threat to the United States

The strain of H5N1 virus found in Asia has not been found in the United States. There have been no human cases of H5N1 flu in the United States. It is possible that travelers returning from affected countries in Asia could bring the virus home with them. Since February 2004, medical and public health personnel have been watching closely to find any such cases.

The United States of America currently does not have the ability to produce enough vaccine for all the people living here. If you live in another country, you need to consider this fact because it will be difficult for any country to make enough vaccine for their own people.

Is it safe to eat chicken?

Yes, experts say it is still safe (as of October 11, 2005) to eat poultry, turkey, geese, etc. because the disease is not food-borne. This has not reassured consumers. In Italy, sales have dropped by 35% in recent days because of fears of the bird flu virus. The real danger is in handling the meat before cooking. Cooking kills the virus.

Poultry Workers

If you work in the poultry processing industry, you need to be making plans about what you will do when the disease arrives in your area. What press releases will be issued? What should workers know about potential risks? What procedures need to be put in place? Safety plans should be developed now while there is still time. Financial plans should also be made for the probable major losses in stock, both stock market stock and flocks of birds.

What does the CDC recommend?

Regarding the H5N1 bird flu, the CDC currently advises that travelers to countries in Asia with known outbreaks of influenza A (H5N1) avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.


Read more about bird flu


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This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright 2002-2012 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report on Bird Flu and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.
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