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Bird Flu (Avian Influenza, Avian Flu)

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Bird 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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