Can Bird Flu feasibly become a pandemic? According to the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.org), there are three conditions necessary for something to be labeled as a pandemic. There must be a new influenza strain that has little or no human immunity. This new strain must be able to infect humans and cause sickness and the new strain must spread easily and without interruption among humans. As it is, bird flu currently meets the first two criteria, but doesn’t spread from human to human on a continuing basis. Because the current strains of bird flu that can infect humans (also referred to as H5N1) do not infect many humans, we have very little immunity to it. Scientists are watching the virus since for changes and adaptations. Once it adapts well enough to spread easily from human to human, it could quite possibly become a world-wide pandemic.
What exactly is Bird Flu? Bird Flu, also call Type A (or avian) Influenza, is the general name for influenza viruses often found in wild birds worldwide – they usually don’t get sick from it however. It is very contagious to domesticated birds and can make them sick enough to die.
How do people become infected with Bird Flu? There are many subtypes of Type A Influenza and only three of them have been found in humans at this point. Most of the people who have become infected with Bird Flu have done so as a result of direct contact with infected birds or with contaminated surfaces from the secretions of infected birds. There have been a very small number of cases where the virus has passed from human to human, but there is no record of it passing beyond one person (according to the CDC).
How serious of a disease is it? While the statistics show that over half of the people who have been diagnosed with the influenza have died from it, it is believed that these statistics are misleading. It’s possible that only the most severe cases have been diagnosed (it can only be certainly diagnosed with a lab test) so there may have been more actual cases than have been reported. Symptoms of Bird Flu include the typical influenza-like symptoms as well as eye infections, pneumonia and respiratory disease.
What can we do about Bird Flu? Right now, according to the CDC, studies have shown that the currently approved drugs used to treat human influenza do not work with the H5N1 virus that affects humans and there is currently not an effective vaccine against it. The good news it that there is a ban on imports of birds and bird products from affected countries and there have been no known incidences of people getting the virus from eating properly prepared poultry and eggs.
Sources: The Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.org)
Safety Tips to Help you Keep Yourself and Your Family Healthy:
- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap after handling raw poultry and eggs.
- Always cook all poultry and wild game thoroughly. Use a thermometer to be sure that even the center is cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (or higher).
- Don’t accept imported birds and bird products (even feathers) from H5N1-affected countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. (There is a ban on importation from these countries because of the associated risk of spreading the disease
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