Getting Real About Bird Flu
As the media and government officials continue to spread fear about the avian flu, or bird flu as it is commonly known, it is important to take a logical look at this disease. Is this flu a creation of hype or is there really something that we need to worry about?
First, let’s cover the basics.
What is bird flu? The term “bird flu” refers to an avian influenza virus that affects poultry and wild birds. In many species of birds, this virus occurs naturally. It can be spread between birds, particularly during their annual migration. While it is very easily passed from bird to bird, the disease does not make the leap to humans as easily as you believHow deadly is the bird flu? Currently, there have been 117 confirmed human cases of bird flu. Of this 117, sixty people have succumbed to the virus. The majority of the cases originated in Asia and parts of Europe.
Can the bird flu be transmitted from human to human? Although there are rare instances of this occurring, particularly in in 1997, the answer is primarily no. When a human being is infected with the bird flu, they become a dead-end host. In other words, the virus will normally stop with them.
Who is at risk for developing the bird flu? Poultry workers or people who have contact with sick birds are most at risk for developing bird flu. An office worker thousands of miles away from a poultry farm is not at risk with the virus’ current characteristics.
Can I get bird flu by eating poultry? While there is a risk for transmission if poultry is undercooked, the instances are extremely rare. Proper cooking of poultry will remove the virus, if it is present. However, as a precaution, it is not recommended to eat the meat of a bird that had the virus.
Can I get the bird flu from my feather pillow? This question has been prevalent recently, due to a ban on the export of feathers by the European Union for specific countries. While it may be possible to get the bird flu from the feathers of a bird, the risks are quite low. Unless you purchased a pillow directly from a country that currently has the bird flu, you are quite safe.
What are the symptoms of bird flu? Avian flu, when it occurs in humans, commonly has symptoms that are similar to human influenza. Fever, sore throat, muscle aches and a cough are common symptoms. In severe cases, eye infections, pneumonia and severe respiratory problems can occur. The types of symptoms may differ according to the strain of the bid flu.
What is the “deadly strain” I’ve heard so much about? H5N1 is the known as the deadly strain of the disease. Fortunately, it is much less prevalent that other forms of avian influenza. This strain has been implicated in bird-to-human transmission of the virus. In 2003 and 2004, poultry in eight countries in Asia had this strain of the disease and nearly one million birds were killed in an effort to stop the transmission of the virus. This strain reappeared in and in the fall of 2005.
Is there a vaccine? A human vaccine is being tested in and production is beginning. The has ordered 120 million doses of the vaccine.
Do I need this vaccine? Unless you work in a poultry farm, or regularly come into contact with infected birds, the answer is currently no. However, if the avian flu virus mutates, and begins spreading from human-to-human, this may change in the future. Mention your concerns to your physician and they will be able to advise you on the risks of the vaccine and whether or not it is necessary for you.
Is there an “imminent pandemic”? This phrase has made its rounds through the media in the past few weeks. While there may be risks to American birds, particularly as they migrate, the imminent risks have just not been proven for humans as of yet.
What can I do to protect myself? The best ways to ensure that you stay free from bird flu are to avoid coming into contact with sick birds and to thoroughly cook any poultry that you eat. Unless the virus begins to spread human-to-human, there are not many other precautions to take.