What is bird flu?
Avian Influenza or bird flu is a Type A viral infection that is contagious among birds. Presently, as per the World Health Organization, the most common strain of virus causing the disease is H5N1. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Although bird flu is restricted to birds and do not normally infect humans, it is zoonotic, and sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred. The first human affected by bird flu was in 1997.
Bird flu symptoms in humans can vary from person to person. Sometimes it would start as regular flu and can worsen and turn fatal as well. But in general, the symptoms of bird flu are:
- Muscle ache
- Respiratory difficulties
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
A variety of strains or types of bird flu exist, but the H5N1 was one of the first to infect humans. H5N1 occurs naturally in the wild waterfowl. The outbreak related to H5N1 occurred in 1997 in Hong Kong due to improper handling of the infected poultry. Therefore, bird flu transmissions are caused due to contact with the infected bird’s feaces, secretion from the mouth of the infected poultry or secretions from the nose of the infected poultry.
Close contact of humans with an animal infected by bird flu has allowed the transmission from the animal to the human. People catch bird flu by close contact with birds or bird droppings. They also caught H5N1 from cleaning or plucking infected birds and even inhaling the air at bird markets. People don’t catch the virus from eating fully cooked chicken or eggs.
The various risk factors of bird flu are:
- A traveler who recently visited an affected geographical place
- Eating undercooked poultry meat and eggs
- Healthcare worker tending to infected patients
- Family members living with the infected patient
- Exposing yourself to birds infected with H5N1
- A poultry farmer
Bird flu is diagnosed by a test called influenza A/H5 virus Real-Time PCR. It provides the result within four hours, and following this, the patient can begin treatment. The treatment of bird flu depends entirely on the symptoms of the patient. Different strains of bird flu display various symptoms. The most general form of treatment of bird flu is with antiviral medication. These could be oseltamivir or zanamivir. These drugs reduce disease severity.
Earlier, bird flu symptoms in human treatment included drugs such as amantadine and rimantadine, which have been now advised against use due to the resistance developed by the virus to these drugs. You would be advised to stay in isolation till you are cured. In addition to this, bird flu infections in humans turn severe and may even require hospitalization and intensive care.
On 17th April 2007, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine to prevent bird flu infection. But in India, various laboratories have been able to successfully come up with a vaccine to prevent the spread of the infection among poultry. The Bhopal based research institute, High-Security Animal Disease Laboratory (HSADL) developed the first bird flu vaccine price in India at just 35 paise. While the original bird flu vaccine price was estimated to be 27 paise per dose, it was estimated to increase up to 35 paise, including transportation cost, making it highly affordable.
With the bird flu vaccine release in India, farmers and people associated with poultry can vaccinate their poultry to prevent infection. However, there is no vaccine for humans against avian flu and the vaccine against human influenza virus does not protect against avian flu.
In the meantime, SRL Diagnostics pathology lab also launched easy and quick detection kits successfully.