Bird Flu (Avian Influenza, Avian Flu)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

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What are risk factors for bird flu?

Humans may get bird flu from contact with infected birds (chickens, for example) or their infected droppings and secretions. Risk factors include caring for sick birds, killing sick birds, and preparing sick birds for consumption. Despite the large number of people who have contact with poultry every day in the world, human cases of bird flu remain rare. This highlights how difficult it is for the bird flu virus to infect human cells, but mutations like antigenic shifts may reduce such difficulties. The H1N1 pandemic that started in Mexico is an example of such a mutation (swine flu to human flu).

Although direct contact with sick poultry poses the highest risk for bird flu, indirect exposure to bird feces or other materials such as bird eggs is also a risk. Contact with unwashed eggs from sick birds or water contaminated by poultry feces poses a potential risk of disease.

Human-to-human spread has occurred in isolated cases. Thus, caring for a person infected with bird flu is also a risk factor for the disease. There is a theoretical risk in laboratory workers who handle the avian flu virus. One alleged incident in 2009 occurred when a company inadvertently sent live avian flu virus samples to research laboratories, which subsequently were used to vaccinate ferrets. The contaminated vaccine did not result in any human infections.

What are bird flu symptoms and signs?

Symptoms occur approximately two to eight days after exposure, on average. Infected people experience typical flu-like symptoms that may include

Children get similar symptoms. This viral infection can progress to pneumonia and even respiratory failure. Bird flu causes a very aggressive form of pneumonia (acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS) that is often fatal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/19/2015

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