Avian influenza (Avian flu /Bird flu)
Avian flu / Bird flu
Avian flu is a viral infection that originally affected only birds but is now transmittable to humans. This disease first appeared in Italy in 1961. In the United States, the first avian flu epidemic occured in the 1980s and over 17 million bird were disposed of. In Hong-Kong and China, the first transmission of the virus from birds to humans occured in 1997 and 18 people were infected; 6 of whom died. In October 2005, the bird flu virus was confirmed in Romania, Turkey and western Russia. During February 2006, the infection spread to other European countries. In the Czech Republic, the first case of bird flu was found in a swan near the city of Hluboké nad Vltavou.
The origin of avian flu
Avian flu is an infectious disease caused by the type A influenza virus which infects mainly birds. It occurs in two forms –the less pathogenic and the highly pathogenic form. Pathogenic means to be capable of causing disease. Current problems are due to the highly pathogenic form called H5N1, which is dangerous for humans. Among birds, the virus is spread by saliva, nasal fluids and feces. As soon as, H5N1 is detected within a bird farm or at certain locations, there are safety controls put in place to ensure that the disease does not spread further. All the birds within that location are culled and the area is properly sterilized. After this, further spread of bird flu in that location is unlikely.
Avian flu transmission
If you are the owner of a bird farm or if you enjoy hiking, you probably want to know how the virus manifests in birds. Infected birds are lethargic and listless, with ruffled feathers and often lay less eggs. The birds eat less and have breathing problems. Death occurs quickly, usually within two days. The virus spreads rapidly among domesticaed birds, like hens, ducks and geese. If you observe any of these symptoms among your fowl, it is important to report it to an epidemiologist immediately. The biggest risk for humans is the possibility that the virus will change and become transmissible from person to person.
Treatment of avian flu
The symptoms of bird flu are similar to those of the classical flu –fever, cough, itchy throat, sore muscles and joints, and conjuctivitis. The virus can also cause severe illness of the respiratory tract and diarrhea. The incubation time (the period between time of infection and the first appearance of symptoms) of the bird flu is a few days to a week. When visiting the doctor, it is important to include information about possible contacts with animals and/or animal feces within the past couple days. It is possible to become infected even when wiping contaminated bird feces off of the windshield of your car.
Prevention of avian flu
It is possible to protect oneself from infection by simply following the rules of basic hygiene, of which the most important is hand-washing, especially before meals. Avoid unecessary contact with infected animals, their feces or feathers and all contaminated surfaces. The easiest way to become infected is through contact with contaminated feces. The most common precautionary measures are the same as with the classical flu. These measures include proper diet, sufficient sleep, and avoiding stressful situations and infected individuals.
The risks of an avian flu pandemic
A pandemic is a widespread epidemic. In order for an illness to be labelled a pandemic it must affect large groups of people around the world, particulary on different continents. In 2005, the WHO (World Health Organization) warned of a possible bird flu epidemic. Some countries prepared stocks of antiviral medications, which are used as treatment for viral infections, as preparation for the coming emergency. These large purchases of antiviral medications helped to increase the profits of many pharmaceutical companies.