The influenza virus has many strains, and one of the adaptations of this virus to its host and in this case, the birds is called the bird flu. In simple words, bird flu is the infection in bird with an influenza virus. This disease is typically found in wild birds but somehow has found its way to domestic poultry like chicken, ducks and turkey. H5N1 is the most dangerous strain and a highly pathogenic (capable of causing disease) form of bird flu.
Why is Avian flu called H5N1?
Flu virus is a genetic material (DNA) surrounded by a protective coating. and it is named after the protein that is found on the virus. H5N1 get its name from H for Hemagglutinin is a protein substance that determines the ability of the viruses to attach and enter to cells so that the immune system in your body cannot detect the virus; and N for Neuraminidase is a protein substance that determines the ability of the virus to spread infection. There are 16 different types of hemagglutinin and 9 different types of neuraminidase and because these proteins mutate over time , there are different version of these proteins. So H5N1 virus is the 5th type of H gene and 1st type of N gene.
How can a person get infected with Avian flu?
Even though it is rare for a person to get bird flu, it can be transmitted on to people who have worked with infected poultry or have eaten under-cooked meat from the infected poultry. People can also be infected from exposure to contaminated surfaces of bird feces or respiratory secretions.
What are the Bird flu symptoms?
Bird flu in humans can cause flu-like symptoms like fever, sore throat, body aches, chills, conjunctivitis and cough. More severe symptoms include pneumonia, multiple organ failure, and sepsis leading to death. The incubation period is anywhere from 3 to 7 days and can last for up-to a week.
How is the Bird flu diagnosed?
Bird flu is diagnosed at the doctor’s office where a test can be performed to identify the type of flu virus. This test is called the PCR testing which detects the nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) of the flu virus. In addition to the test, it is also important to let your doctor know if you have travelled to the country where avian flu is common or visited an open market having live birds.
Can Bird flu become the next pandemic?
In the beginning scientists thought that it is not possible for the bird flu to spread to people but the genetic mutation in the virus has proved otherwise. So far the cases of bird flu has infected the people who have been in close contact with infected bird i.e. bird to human transmission of the virus. But so far human to human transmission is not heard of. The fear now is that this virus has the capability to mutate to the extent that it can spread from person to person and become the next pandemic. According to an article in National Geography, this adaptation can occur at any time thru what is called the re-assortment of the genes of the avian strain and the human strain. Re-assortment can happen if the person has been infected by human flu and bird flu at the same time, these two viruses can swap genes, leading to an emergence of human version of bird flu. The pandemic flu of 1957 and 1968 is the result of this re-assortment. When Klaus Stohr , project leader at WHO influenza programme was asked if the bird flu pandemic is imminent he replied, ”With this virus we have had very many surprises; we have had a very steep learning curve, We are seeing that it is changing very rapidly. We have also seen that it is not re-assorting as everybody thought 18 months ago. So we do not know if a pandemic can occur next week or next year, or perhaps if another virus is going to cause a pandemic. We should simply continue with our pandemic preparedness.” ( Source Web MD.)
Treatment of Bird Flu:
Because of the mutations in the influenza virus, anti-viral drugs such as amantadine and rimantadine do not work for flu anymore. But the treatment with antiviral medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) will make the disease less severe if they are taken within two days of the appearance of the symptoms of the flu. A person diagnosed with bird flu should be put in isolation. It is usually recommended by the doctors to get a flu shot to reduce the chance of the mixing of the bird and human flu virus which can create a new virus that can easily be spread from person to person.
According to Mayo clinic FDA has one approved vaccine for one of the stain of H5N1 virus, but it will be made available to the public only in event of an outbreak. Researchers are also working on vaccines that can be used against other stains of Bird flu virus. People can take certain precautionary measures to prevent getting bird flu. Some precautions are:
- Washing hands.
- Cooking poultry thoroughly.
- Avoid eating raw or under-cooked eggs.
- Avoid open air market and domesticated birds
- Never touch dead or sick birds.
- Watch wildlife from a distance.
- Report to a health care official if you see dead or sick bird.
- Before travelling talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot specially if you have weak immune system.
Chinese remedy used in China for Bird flu virus:
The local government in China have encouraged the use of traditional Chinese remedy called ban lan gen, or blue root for protection against the Bird flu. In China ban lan gen is associated as an anti-viral medicine against the flu. Although there has been some controversy about the use of banlagen, people continue to stock up on this Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Read more on Pandemic Flu Resources at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/