Bird flu is influenza in birds. There are many strains of virus that cause influenza in birds. The concern arises when one or more than one of these subtypes mutate and become infectious to human beings. There are various strains of virus that causes influenza in birds and other animals. These strains of virus are normally not harmful to human beings but after mutation or adapting to the changing environment they pose a threat to human population.
The various strains which have been identified as infectious to human beings are H5N1, H7N3, H7N7 and H9N2. Recently in 2005, H5NI strain of virus has caused an epidemic by infecting a large Asian and European population. It is also known as ‘avian influenza’.
Human deaths have been reported in various countries like China, Vietnam, and Cambodia due to bird flu.
If remained unchecked this disease poses a threat to develop as a pandemic.
The persons who are at higher risk of encountering this infection are-
· Poultry workers and farmers.
· People who consume raw or undercooked poultry products.
· Persons who travel the affected countries/ locations.
· Health workers or the family members coming in direct and close contact of the infected person.
There can be wide range of symptoms that may arise as a result of this infection. But generally a patient arrives with flu like symptoms only, which are described below.
Running nose, sore throat, cough, dyspnoea, high grade fever, malaise, diarrhoea etc.
The disease spreads easily once the cattle or poultry birds are infected. It is easier for the virus to transmit from birds to humans but human to human transfer is not that evident. It requires a close and lasting contact for the virus to spread in such a manner.
At the time of epidemic, one should avoid going to affected places. Any kind of direct contact with birds should be avoided.
There is always a raised chance of getting infected by consuming raw or undercooked poultry food. It is always advised to either avoid poultry items or if consumed, cook them properly.
Poultry hygiene conditions should be strictly checked and maintained. The disease is more prevalent in Asian countries due to low standards of hygiene and overcrowded poultry conditions.
· There are plenty of antiviral drugs available in market. But ‘Tamiflu’ (oseltamivir) or ‘Relenza’ (zanamivir) have been most effective in treatment of bird flu caused due to H5N1 viral strain. If taken within 48 hours of exposure, they have shown excellent results. It is always advisable to consult a physician before taking any kind of medications.
· Patient is generally kept in isolation to avoid spread of infections to others.
· Prompt treatment should always be done as the disease may lead to several life threatening complications like pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, or multiple organ failure.
If proper hygienic conditions of poultry farms is maintained then this disease could be checked or if left unattended may have disastrous results as once the domestic birds got infected, it may spread like a pandemic. Mass culling of affected species of birds is carried out by the government authorities which is the only way to check the spread of disease.