Bird Flu (Avian Influenza, Avian Flu)

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Bird flu (avian flu) facts

  • Bird flu (avian flu or avian influenza) refers to strains of influenza that primarily affect wild and domesticated birds. Bird flu is named H or N depending on the proteins found on the surface of the virus.
  • Bird flu symptoms include
  • Symptoms often progress to
    • severe breathing problems,
    • pneumonia,
    • acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
  • 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 for people to contract bird flu include association with birds and poultry farms and bird feces. There have been isolated cases of human-to-human transmission.
  • 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; other strains are rare.
  • Human infection with highly infectious strains of bird flu is uncommon, with most infections occurring after exposure to infected birds or their droppings.
  • There is no commercially available vaccine for humans against bird flu strains. Human infection with H5N1 bird flu is fatal in approximately 55% of infected humans and 37% infected with H7N9, but only a relatively small number of humans worldwide have become infected since 1997 (H5N1 = 784 people infected and H7N9 = 622).
  • The prognosis of bird flu is fair to poor because of frequent complications and high death rates.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/19/2015

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Bird Flu Symptoms

What Is Bird Flu? Should We Be Concerned?

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.