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Avian Flu

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Avian flu is an infection that affects birds, thus also called as bird flu. It is caused by a type of influenza virus. You must be wondering why are we discussing a disease that affects birds. This is because this virus has the ability to infect humans and lead to a fatal infection. It is a type of zoonotic infection. The virus tends to mutate and develop the ability to infect humans leading to not just a few isolated cases, but a worldwide epidemic of avian flu in humans.

What is Avian Flu?

Avian flu is an infectious disease that is caused by influenza virus called the bird flu virus. It generally infects domestic poultry birds like chickens, ducks, etc. It can even infect pigs in some cases leading to Swine Flu. When this virus undergoes mutation, it leads to avian flu in humans.

Avian flu spreads through bird to bird contact. The nasal and respiratory secretions of infected birds spreading to a healthy bird leads to an infection. Other ways of infection include birds coming in contact with feces, feed, water, equipments contaminated by an infected bird.

An infected bird shows the following signs and symptoms of flu:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of combs, legs
  • Lack of energy
  • Dirty feathers
  • Purple discoloration of combs
  • Diarrhea
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Sudden death

Symptoms of Avian Flu

Avian flu symptoms tend to vary person to person. The first sign of avian flu is general flu-like symptoms. These symptoms may suddenly change into a more severe form that includes:

The symptoms may appear in about 3 to 5 days after infection. These symptoms last for about a week. If left untreated, it could lead to severe pneumonia as well as multi-organ failure. In such a case, the disease proves to be fatal.

What are the Causes of Avian Flu in Humans?

Avian flu in humans is caused by the H5N1 influenza A virus. This disease is transmitted to humans by contact with an infected bird. People who work closely with the birds like poultry farm workers, sellers of poultry products in open-air markets,  as well as people who bring home poultry for food. The nasal and respiratory secretions from the infected bird or its feces help in the spread of the virus in the human body. Avian flu does not spread by eating poultry products. It cannot pass from an infected person to a healthy person. In rare cases, very close contact with an infected person has led to person-to-person infection. Till the virus does not mutate into a human flu virus, casual contact with an infected person will not lead to the spread of infection.

Diagnosis of Avian Flu

If one develops sudden high fever and severe flu-like symptoms, they should seek medical attention. The doctor may carry out tests to confirm avian flu. These tests include chest X-ray, respiratory secretions culture, and certain blood tests for observing white blood cells.

Treatment for Avian Flu

The treatment of avian flu includes isolating the patients till the symptoms of avian flu subside. The patient is given plenty of rest, fluids to drink along with a healthy diet. Medications such as aspirin are given for treating fever and general malaise. If a patient develops complications like pneumonia, they are kept on ventilator support and treated according to the complications arising.

The prognosis for avian flu is very poor. If the infection is very serious, it may lead to death due to complications. Prevention of avian flu includes:

  • Wash hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer as frequently as possible.
  • Use clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, etc. when cooking poultry.
  • Cook the chicken thoroughly and egg whites & yolks till firm.
  • Avoiding bird-markets, farms and poultry areas during a flu outbreak.
  • Avoid consuming raw or half-cooked poultry products.
  • Stay away from infected or sick birds, if possible.
  • Avoid travelling to regions that have a flu outbreak.
  • Ask your doctor for a flu shot to prevent infection from various types of influenza virus and build some immunity against avian flu.

If one develops flu-like symptoms after coming in contact with birds or an infected person, they should seek immediate medical attention. As this is a new virus, humans have still not developed immunity against the virus. Also, researchers still have to study the virus in detail. Thus, prevention is the only key to stay away from avian flu.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: December 23, 2014