Bird Flu (Avian Influenza, Avian Flu)

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Bird flu facts

  • Bird flu refers to strains of influenza that primarily affect wild and domesticated birds.
  • Bird flu is also known as avian flu or avian influenza.
  • Although bird flu is contagious and spreads easily among birds, it is uncommon for it to be transmitted to humans.
  • In the late 1990s, a new strain of bird flu arose which was unusually severe ("highly pathogenic"), resulting in the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds, including poultry.
  • Risk factors include association with birds and poultry farms and bird feces.
  • Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, nausea; symptoms often progress to severe breathing problems, pneumonia that can result in death.
  • Definitive diagnosis requires identification of the viral strain by immunological tests.
  • Treatment may include antiviral medication and often requires intensive supportive care.
  • Control efforts, including culling infected flocks and vaccinating healthy birds, have limited the spread of highly pathogenic bird flu strains.
  • In 2011, a mutated strain of highly pathogenic bird flu appeared, H5N1, which is concerning because the existing poultry vaccines are not very effective against the H5N1 strain; in 2013, a new strain, H7N9, appeared in China.
  • Human infection with highly pathogenic strains of bird flu is uncommon, with about 622 cases reported as of March 2013 since 1997.
  • Human infection occurs primarily in people who have close contact with sick poultry in countries where the virus is found; there have been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.
  • There is no commercially available vaccine for humans against bird flu strains; human infection with bird flu is fatal in approximately 60% of infected humans, but only a small number of humans have become infected since 1997.
  • Bird flu from the highly pathogenic strains (for example H5N1) is not found in the United States at this time in birds or humans.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/5/2013

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Bird Flu Symptoms

Read more about the recent outbreak of bird flu in China

Bird flu symptoms in humans can vary and range from "typical" flu symptoms (fever, sore throat, muscle pain) to eye infections and pneumonia. The disease caused by the H5N1 virus is a particularly severe form of pneumonia that leads to viral pneumonia and multiorgan failure in many people who become infected.