What do You Need to Know about Bird Flu? Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

The threat of another deadly flu pandemic like the one in 1918, which killed an estimated 40 million people, still exists today with greater intensity than ever before. Wild birds have been carrying and spreading the flu for as long as there have been birds. But that doesn't mean you can't stop it.

We've made great strides in preventing and responding to outbreaks over the past century. However, we know that a new pandemic is just a mutation away. You can take measures to protect yourself, your family and other vulnerable people around you during an avian influenza outbreak or bird flu virus. Read on to learn more.

What is Bird Flu?

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a type of influenza (flu) that can infect chickens, turkeys, and commercial and other wild birds. A type of influenza virus causes it called an “influenza A virus” (IAV) causes flu in people. The H5N8, H5N6, H7N9, H9N2 and other bird flu viruses are of concern because they have caused significant numbers of infections and deaths among wild birds and some poultry flocks, especially in Asia. Health officials closely monitor these viruses for any changes that could signal a risk to people.

There are several types of flu viruses that cause illness in humans. Influenza A viruses are among the most common. Some flu viruses can infect other animals, including pigs, horses, or birds. The H5N8, H5N6, H7N9, H9N2 and other bird flu viruses are of concern because they have caused significant numbers of infections and deaths among wild birds and some poultry flocks, especially in Asia.

Why is Bird Flu Dangerous?

The danger of bird flu is that it can easily spread from one person to another. At the same time, a new pandemic is just a mutation away. A new pandemic is risky if the strain mutates and is transmitted from person to person. The virus can be passed directly between people, with droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing and indirectly through contaminated surfaces or objects.

It can persist in the environment and the live poultry trade and be transported globally in as little as 48 hours. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts one million deaths could occur if a pandemic occurs. There have been several pandemics of avian influenza in the past:

  • The Asian flu pandemic of 1957
  • The Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968
  • The Swine flu pandemic of 2009

How do Humans Contract the Flu from Birds?

A bird flu infection in humans usually begins with direct contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated with infected droppings. Direct contact means touching the infected bird, its droppings, or an object (such as a cage or feed bucket) that the droppings have contaminated.

There is a risk of contracting the flu from live poultry if you come into close contact with them – for example, by having them in your home or touching their eggs. You can also be infected if you eat food or drink water that droppings from infected birds have contaminated.

The virus can also be found in infected birds' blood, organs, and other tissues. Direct contact with an infected person can also transmit the virus. Humans can protect themselves by washing their hands thoroughly with soap and water when they come into contact with live poultry and by avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with their hands when they have any contact with birds or poultry.

Signs and Symptoms of Bird Flu

Symptoms of bird flu in humans depend on which flu strain they have been infected with. The incubation period is one to two days and may last up to 10 days. Most people recover within a week, but some develop complications requiring hospitalization.

In rare cases, the virus can cause death. The most common symptoms include: Fever, Cough, Sore Throat, Muscle or joint pain Fatigue, Headache, Decreased appetite Diarrhea Nausea and vomiting, and Infection in one or both lungs (pneumonia).

Causes and Risk Factors of Bird Flu

The exact source of the bird flu virus is unknown in most cases. Several strains of the bird flu virus exist, and different strains can infect birds, pigs, and people. The risk factors for avian influenza infections are the same as for other types of flu. For example, you are at greater risk if you do not get enough sleep, clean your hands, eat nutritious foods, and exercise regularly. Common risk factors for contracting the flu are: 

  • Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as those with chronic health conditions or who are taking certain medications, are at the highest risk of contracting the flu. 
  • People living in crowded conditions, such as nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, are also at increased risk. 
  • People who do not get enough sleep, eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly have a higher risk of contracting the flu.

Treatment and Medication Options for Bird Flu

There are several ways to address flu symptoms, including: 

1. Resting

Resting

Reducing the amount of activity during your flu will help you rest and recover more quickly. 

2. Washing your hands

Washing your hands

Frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and avoid getting sick. 

3. Drinking fluids

Drinking fluids

Fluids such as water and hot tea can help your body recover from the flu by maintaining hydration

4. Taking over-the-counter medications

Taking over-the-counter medications

Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are good options for easing a fever and easing aches and pains

5. Getting vaccinated

Getting vaccinated

Vaccines can protect you from different strains of the flu, particularly the strains that are expected to be the most common during the upcoming flu season.

Final Words: Understanding Bird Flu

While the risk of contracting bird flu is low for most people, you can take measures to protect yourself, your family and other vulnerable people around you during avian influenza or bird flu virus outbreak. Get vaccinated, clean and disinfect your hands regularly and be aware of the symptoms of bird flu.

If you are at risk of contracting the flu, take precautions to reduce the chance of Infection. Knowing the signs of bird flu is important so you can seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you might have contracted it.

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