Bird Flu: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an ongoing scare of bird flu infection as well.
So what is bird flu disease, and does it affect humans adversely? If yes, what are the symptoms, and how can we prevent the spread of the disease?
Get in-depth analysis on what H5N1 is and the different bird flu signs and symptoms below!
What Is Bird Flu?
Bird flu is the common term used for avian influenza. The H5N1 virus causes it.
The H5N1 virus, also known as the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus of type A of subtype H5N1, is a highly infectious and severe respiratory disease in birds, which may spread to humans and animals.
According to the World Health Organisation, the H5N1 virus occasionally occurs in humans, albeit with a 60% chance of survival. The disease does not, however, infect humans easily. Any infection in humans results from close contact with secretions such as mucous, droppings, or saliva from infected birds.
Human to human spread of the virus is rare and occurs only in extremely close contact cases, such as what happened when a mother was looking after her infected child. Contrary to popular belief, the disease does not pass through food or the eating of eggs cooked at high temperatures.
There is widespread worry over the H5N1 virus because the virus may mutate and become easily spreadable among humans. When this occurs, the high mortality rate can become a cause for public health concerns.
What Are the Causes of Bird Flu?
Bird flu is caused by the H5N1 virus, as stated previously. There are at least a dozen types of bird flu viruses. Based on the two types of protein that covers the virus, there are:
- Hemagglutinin (HA), of which there are 16 subtypes from H1 to H16.
- Neuraminidase (NA), of which there are 9 subtypes from N1 to N9.
There can be many combinations of HA and NA proteins. For example, these are H5N1, H7N2, H7N8.
Based on their ability to produce diseases in chickens, bird flu causes can be divided into the following:
- Highly pathogenic avian influenza (causes high mortality and death rates in certain species of wild groups)
- Low pathogenic avian influenza (no clinical signs and moderate death rates with little sign in wild birds).
This was the rundown of which virus causes bird flu.
Bird flu usually occurs with wild water birds and spreads to domesticated poultry such as chickens, geese, and turkey. It also spreads faster in cold temperatures.
What Are the Bird Flu Symptoms?
Mostly, the bird flu symptoms are similar to symptoms of the common cold. The virus takes a maximum period of 7 days to incubate. Incubation refers to the duration when the virus enters the host, and the symptoms begin to show. However, more commonly, there can also be an incubation period of 4-5 days.
What Are the Symptoms of Bird Flu in Humans?
They include the following:
- Hoarse voice
- Sore throat
- An upset stomach which may consist of diarrhoea
- Altered mental state
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Runny nose
- Respiratory discomfort
While most of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms shown by flu, it is quite common to self-medicate until the disease reaches a severe state. So, in the case of bird flu, if you are living in an area where there has been an outbreak, it is vital to visit the doctor as soon as possible.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Bird Flu?
In the bird flu diagnosis, there is a test called the A/H5 virus real-time RT-PCR. It can be detected from the culture of sputum via a polymerase chain reaction. PCR detects the nucleic acid from the influenza virus A.
Blood tests are also available to detect antibodies in the blood after the onset of the disease. However, these tests take time and are not practical.
So, how is bird flu diagnosed by doctors?
- Auscultation, which is a test that detects abnormal breath sounds
- White blood cell differential
- Chest x-ray
- Nasopharyngeal culture
There can be other tests related to the liver, kidney and heart. These are some of the ways to test for bird flu.
What Is the Treatment of Bird Flu?
The bird flu treatment has to begin within 48 hours. If the disease has become severe, doctors may also hook you up to a breathing machine.
Before we look at what the treatment for bird flu is, have a look at some of the complications that may arise from the disease.
- Sepsis, which is inflammation in response to germs and bacteria
- Acute respiratory disease
- Organ failure
Here is a gist of the bird flu treatment for humans:
- Tamiflu, which is an antiviral medication.
- Relenza can also be given to help with the severity of the disease
- Amantadine and rimantadine are two viral medications that should not be administered.
- You may be kept in isolation to avoid spreading the disease
- Family members that live with you may be prescribed the antiviral drug even if they are not affected.
Assess the Risk Factors of Bird Flu
H5N1 can survive for up to 10 days as birds release the virus in faeces up till then. As an individual, you have a greater risk of contracting the disease if you:
- Have been in contact with infected birds
- Are living in the same house as an infected person
- Are caring for persons who are infected, such as a nurse, doctor
- Are eating undercooked eggs or poultry
- Have visited a place where there has been a recent outbreak of H5N1
- Are a poultry farmer
How to Prevent Bird Flu?
Bird flu prevention is an essential matter of discussion since if the disease begins to spread from human to human, there must be safety measures in place.
Vaccine for Bird Flu Virus Prevention
In 2007, the USA developed a vaccine for bird flu to be used by humans. However, this vaccine is not used in India. Researchers are still looking to develop a vaccine for bird flu in the country.
Travel Recommendations Bird Flu Prevention in Humans
Try to avoid domesticated birds and open-air markets in South East Asia, if you are travelling there. Wash your hands frequently and use 60% alcohol-based sanitiser. You can take a flu shot to prevent getting infected with both human flu and bird flu at the same time, which could be highly severe.
Eating Poultry or Eggs for Bird Flu Prevention
While well-cooked meat and eggs are perfectly safe to consume since the virus dies under high temperatures, you must avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs.
In conclusion, bird flu will become a widespread health problem only if the virus mutates and begins to spread easily from person to person. Until then, humans are mostly safe from a raging bird flu pandemic.