Avian Flu

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What is avian influenza(bird flu)? 

  • Bird flu is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses.  These flu viruses occur naturally among birds.  Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them.  However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.
  • Certain types of influenza viruses causes avian flu. There are 15 known avian influenza virus subtypes circulating in bird populations.  Influenza A (H5N1) is infecting birds in Asia and has infected some humans.

How is avian flu spread? How do people get avian flu?

  • Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.  Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated excretions or surfaces that are contaminated with excretions.
  • It is believed that most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.
  • Spread of the avian flu from person to person has been rare and spread has not continued beyond one person.  Health entities worldwide are concerned that the virus can change and one day infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.

What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?

  • Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases, and other severe and life-threatening complications.  The symptoms of bird flu may depend on which virus caused the infection.

Can the human flu vaccine protect me against avian influenza?

  • Flu viruses change from year to year.  For that reason, immunity (natural protection created against a disease after a person has had that disease) that is built up from having the flu caused by one virus does not provide protection when a different virus is circulating.  This also means that a vaccine made against flu viruses circulating before may not protect against the newer viruses.  Thus the flu vaccine is updated annually to include current human viruses.

How is bird flu treated in humans?

  • There are no publicly available vaccines against avian flu.  There are 4 different influenza antiviral drugs for the treatment and/or prevention of influenza.  However, some of the H5N1 viruses isolated from poultry and humans in 2004 in Asia have shown that the viruses are resistant to 2 of the medications.

What can be done to protect the public from avian flu?

  • The government has introduced restrictions on live bird and poultry imports from countries with ongoing avian flu outbreaks.  Federal and state animal health officials work with the poultry industry to carefully monitor breeding flocks, slaughter plants, live bird markets, livestock auctions, and poultry dealers.

Where have human cases occurred?

  • In the current outbreak, laboratory confirmed cases have been reported in 4 countries:  Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Since December 2003, there have been 121 human cases of avian flu.

What should I do if I think I have avian flu?

  • You should be evaluated by a health care provider in the first few days after onset of illness in order to confirm avian influenza.  Inform your healthcare provider if you develop any fever or worsening respiratory symptoms.  Mention any recent exposures to infected poultry or to someone suspected of having avian influenza.

What can the Health District do about protecting the public from avian flu?

  • The Health District urges the public to practice “respiratory etiquette” (hand washing often with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, drying hands with a clean disposable towel, or use an alcohol based hand cleaner when soap and water is not available).  In addition, the Health District is working along with local hospitals and other medical facilities in a statewide influenza surveillance network.  The data collected from this initiative will enable health agencies to prepare for new vaccines, assess the severity of the annual epidemic, and detect new strains of the virus before a pandemic influenza strain can emerge.