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Avian Flu: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

avian flu airborne spores

Humans generally depend on poultry for their protein needs. Besides being a great source of protein, poultry can offer a great source of income. However, poultry in recent years has been bedeviled by various health problems, including Coccidiosis, New Castle disease, and the dreaded avian influenza, also called bird flu. In this article, we will learn about avian influenza's causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

Classification of Avian Flu

Avian flu is a group of viral infections infecting birds, humans, and other animals. Avian influenza is divided into 6 main types:

  • H7N3

  • H7N9

  • H10N8

  • H7N7

  • H9N2

  • H5N1

H5N1 is the deadliest and the most common of them all. It can affect humans and animals, especially birds.

Symptoms of Avian Flu

  • High Fever

  • Diarrhea

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Malaise

  • Headaches

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Muscle aches

Causes of Avian Flu

H5N1 was the first avian influenza to infect human beings. This originally occurred in Hong Kong in 1997 as a result of the poor handling of infected birds. Wild waterfowl are susceptible to H5N1, which can then easily spread to domestic fowl. Humans can get infected with the virus through direct contact with infected bird feces, nasal fluids, or various secretions occurring from either the eyes or mouth. Swimming or bathing in water contaminated with the droppings of infected birds puts you at risk of contracting the virus. You cannot contract avian influenza if you consume properly cooked chicken or eggs. Meat cooked at 165ºF (internal temperature) is safe for consumption.

Humans and Bird Flu

Humans definitely contact bird flu. They do this through close contact with birds or bird droppings. As they clean or pluck infected birds, they can catch the flu. In China, for instance, people get the virus from inhaling aerosolized substances in open markets.

Infected persons can also pass the virus to other persons after close personal contact.

People at Risk of Bird Flu

Bird flu survives in birds' bodies for longer periods. The infected birds continually release the H5N1 virus in their feces, saliva, and other fluids for up to 10 days. The infection is further spread if you touch contaminated surfaces.

Below are examples of people at risk of contracting the H5N1 virus

  1. Poultry farmers

  2. Health workers attending to the infected patient

  3. Family members of the affected brother

  4. Tourists visiting an infected area

  5. People that are exposed to infected friends


The virus can be diagnosed through tests such as influenza A/H5 virus RT-PCR primer and probe set, auscultation, chest x-ray, white blood cell differential, nasopharyngeal culture, etc. Other tests can also be carried out to check the heart, liver, and kidney condition.

Can bird flu be treated?

Since there are various types of bird flu, their symptoms and treatment will also differ.

When treating the virus, antiviral medication is used within 2days of noticing the symptoms. Drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamir) or Relenza (zanamir) are administered to the infected patient.

Antiviral medications such as rimantadine and amantadine should not be used to treat avian flu, as the human flu may develop a resistance to them. While you undergo treatment, your family members and those you are constantly in contact with should also take the antiviral drugs as a measure to prevent a problem, even if they are not showing signs of the virus. The same applies to the other birds in the pen. To avoid the further spread of the virus, all infected persons or birds should be placed in isolation booths. You could be placed on a breathing machine if the infection is severe.

Preventative measures against Bird Flu

You can take a few measures to prevent yourself from deliberately contracting the virus. They include: 1. Stay away, as much as possible, from countries and areas affected by the flu 2. If you must go to these places, avoid open markets 3. Avoid contact with infected birds

On April 17th, 2007, the FDA announced a vaccine to prevent humans from contracting the bird flu, purchased for distribution to public health centers across the country. The World Health Organization also has the vaccine. The vaccine, when taken along with adjuvants (agents that boost the immune system), protects humans from the negative effects of the virus, and its spread is contained. However, these vaccines are not commercially available to the public.

The outlook depends on how severe the infection was and the type of influenza virus involved. H5N1 is the most common of the virus and it is also the deadliest.

People with bird flu are prone to the following complications:

  1. Pneumonia

  2. Organ failure

  3. Fatal inflammation as a response to bacteria or other germs

  4. Acute respiratory problems (some may require breathing machines)

  5. Effects on the brain and digestive system of the infected

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