What Is the Avain Flu?
by Cassandra Cochrun
The avian flu, or bird flu, gets its name because it occurs most often in birds. Avian flu outbreaks occurred in the United States in 1924, 1983 and 2004. However, it was found mostly in birds. Humans rarely get the disease. When they do, it can be serious.
There are 144 different types of avian flu. Like human influenza, some strains are mild, but others are serious. The H5N1 strain of the avian flu is the type that concerns health officials the most because more than half of the humans with reported cases of H5N1 have died.
Relatively speaking, the avian flu risk to humans is low. However, several confirmed cases in humans have been reported since 1997. Most cases result from direct contact with infected birds or indirect contact through infected surfaces or tools. While it is rare for the avian flu to pass from birds to people, it is rarer still for the infection to pass from person to person.
While it is possible to get the avian flu from raw poultry meat, it is not possible to get it from eating fully cooked poultry meat because the heat kills the avian flu virus.
The most common symptoms of the avian flu in humans are just like the symptoms of human influenza: coughing, sore throat, fever, and body aches. The bird flu may also cause eye infections, and, if allowed to advance, pneumonia and severe respiratory diseases. Birds may have avian flu if they lose their appetites, cough, sneeze, have diarrhea, or experience decreased egg production.
If you think you have the avian flu, go to the doctor. The doctor will administer a physical exam and ask about your symptoms, health history, where you live, if you've traveled recently, or if you've recently had contact with birds. The doctor may then run tests such as blood tests, nasal swabs or X-rays to diagnose the avian flu.
If you have a mild strain of the avian flu, drugs that are used to treat human influenza may be effective. If you have the H5N1 strain, you may be treated in a hospital isolation room to decrease the chance of anybody else catching the strain.
In order to help prevent the instances of avian flu in the United States, the USDA imposes trade restrictions on poultry imports from other countries where avian flu has recently been confirmed.
To prevent the avian flu, stay away from birds that appear sick. If birds display symptoms of the avian flu, contact federal or state animal health officials immediately so that the disease can be contained as much as possible.
At home, you can decrease your risk even further by handling poultry meat properly. This means washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds when handling food, keeping raw poultry away from other foods, sanitizing knives and cutting boards with a diluted bleach solution, and thoroughly cooking poultry meat.