Bird Flu: Transmission, Symptoms, and Treatment of Avian Influenza

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Infection sites of swine flu (H1N1) symptoms and bird flu (H5N1) symptoms. Photo by Tim Vickers

Avian influenza, also known as the bird flu, is starting to show up in the news again. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Egypt, China, and Cambodia have all had cases of confirmed H5N1 in humans. This makes ten people with the bird flu already in 2013. The one infected person in Egypt has died and six out of the seven people infected in Cambodia have died. Of the two cases in China, one person has died.

Avian Flu Transmission

Avian influenza is an infectious virus that normally occurs among birds. However, the H5N1 strain of the avian influenza has caused infections in humans – most of the cases have been where people have had direct or close contact with infected poultry.

This virus does not spread between people very efficiently. There have been a few cases of human-to-human transmission, mainly those having a prolonged exposure to another sick person. For example, in 2004 a child was in the hospital for H5N1 in Thailand and the mother became ill with the bird flu. In 2006 in Indonesia, one family member became sick from direct contact with infected poultry and infected six other family members.

Bird Flu: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Once a human is infected, the virus has an incubation period of two to seventeen days. Initial symptoms include high fever (greater than 100.4° F), diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chest pain, and even bleeding from the nose and gums, but not all cases have these symptoms. Around five days after initial symptoms begin, the victim will experience other symptoms that include respiratory distress and bloody sputum, and almost all patients develop pneumonia. Currently there are limited treatment options for avian flu: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some evidence shows that oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu), an antiviral drug, decreases the duration of the bird flu, and improves the survival rate if administered within forty-eight hours of the onset of symptoms.

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