International Global Health Blog

Bird Flu

International Global Health

Known as avian influenza, bird flu is a viral infection spread from bird to bird. Just like birds and pigs, other animals such as horses and dogs, can be infected with their own influenza viruses (canine influenza viruses, equine influenza viruses, etc.).Currently, a particularly deadly strain of bird flu -- H5N1 -- continues to spread among poultry in Egypt and in certain parts of Asia


The H5N1 virus has claimed more than 100 victims in Indonesia. Most cases have been in Java. Treatment is difficult and every few years it reappears.



H5N1 is a highly pathogenic avian influenza(HPAI) virus. It is deadly to most birds. And it is deadly to humans and to other mammals that catch the virus from birds. 


But unlike human flu bugs, H5N1 bird flu does not spread easily from person to person. The very  few cases of human-to-human transmission have been among people with exceptionally close contact


Migrating water fowl; most notably wild ducks are the natural carriers of bird flu viruses. Because the disease has spread to wild birds, pigs, and even to donkeys -- As of 2011, the disease was well established in six nations: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.


Avian Flu Viruses Types

Human infections with avian influenza A viruses have most often occurred after contact with infected birds or their secretions or excretions. Three subtypes of avian influenza A viruses are known to infect people (H5, H7 and H9 viruses). Among these, Asian lineage H5N1 and H7N9 have caused the majority of infections in people.



Bird flu symptoms are like other types of flu such as fever (high temperature), extreme fatigue, headache, cough/runny nose and aching muscles.

For some people, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain have also been reported as early symptoms in some people.

Within days of symptoms appearing, potentially fatal complications are acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia also multiple organ failure may develop.



If avian flu is suspected, diagnostic tests are used to detect the virus and identify the strain. A physical examination, blood tests, and chest x-rays also may be performed.


The diagnosis of avian influenza (AI) virus infections, even highly pathogenic AI (HPAI), represents a considerable challenge due to the lack of pathognomonic or specific clinical signs and their variation in different avian hosts plus the marked antigenic variation amongst influenza A viruses. Conventional laboratory techniques involve the isolation, identification and characterization (including virulence estimates) of the virus.


In February 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a rapid test to detect bird flu. Because the H5N1 avian influenza virus is so aggressive, it is important to diagnose this disease and begin treatment quickly. Results of the rapid test usually are available within four hours.



The prompt treatment for Bird Flu is antiviral medication to help prevent complications and reduce the risk of death.

CDC currently recommends treatment with a neuraminidase inhibitor for human infection with avian influenza A viruses. Analyses of available avian influenza viruses circulating worldwide suggest that most viruses are susceptible to oseltamivir, peramivir, and zanamivir. However, some evidence of antiviral resistance has been reported in HPAI Asian lineage avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses (Asian H5N1 viruses) and Asian lineage avian influenza A(H7N9) viruses (Asian H7N9 viruses).


Monitoring for antiviral resistance among avian influenza A viruses is crucial and ongoing



People who work with poultry or who respond to avian influenza outbreaks are advised to follow recommended biosecurity and infection control practices; these include use of appropriate personal protective equipment and careful attention to hand hygiene.


CDC recommends that people responding to poultry outbreaks should get a seasonal influenza vaccination every year, preferably at least two weeks before engaging in an outbreak response. Seasonal influenza vaccination will not prevent infection with avian influenza A viruses, but can reduce the risk of co-infection with human and avian influenza A viruses.


When traveling in these areas, you have to avoid live poultry markets. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. People who handle birds that may be infected should wear protective clothing and breathing masks.



World Health Organization (WHO)




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


GP Online


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