Avian influenza or bird flu, as it is commonly called, was first discovered in Italy over a century back. There are many strains of bird flu virus. Many of these strains, especially the H5N1 and H7 ones, have proved to be deadly. In Asia, the H5N1 strain is the most deadly. It has claimed to have killed 70 people over the past two years. Scientists believe that bird flu could become the fourth most deadly pandemic worldwide if it isn’t dealt with quickly.
Influenza has had a profound impact on the lives of many people, especially in the 20th Century. At least 20 million people died worldwide from the Spanish Flu 1918, 1957 Asian Flu and 1968 Hong Kong Flu.
Bird flu spreads quickly because the virus is often found in the intestines migrant birds who travel long distances. Bird flu is spread when birds, chickens, and geese contact infected birds’ saliva, nasal secretions, or feces. Within 48 hours, birds can become ill and then die. People who come in contact with infected birds are also at risk.
Scientists believe bird flu could be a pandemic for four reasons.
1. Many countries, especially third world countries do not have the right facilities to deal with the bird flu problem. The bird flu virus could spread quickly if these facilities are not available.
2. To combat bird flu virus, no vaccine has been developed or tested. The use of rimantadine or amantadine to treat the flu has not proved successful. Despite research being conducted, there is no cure for bird flu in humans. It will take at most four months to develop vaccines that can be distributed in the event of a pandemic.
3. Birds and pigs are both affected by the avian influenza virus. Scientists fear that the virus could become more severe and even spread to humans. The virus could spread from one person to the next by becoming airborne.
4. Many people who work in agriculture or in the poultry or livestock industry don’t have the right equipment and protection against the disease.
A person infected by bird flu may experience symptoms similar to those experienced by humans. Bird flu can cause fever, muscle pains and sore throat. Bird flu symptoms are similar to human flu. A person suffering from bird flu may be mistakenly thought to have human flu. Advanced symptoms of bird flu can include eye infections or respiratory problems that could lead to serious complications.
When bird flu was discovered in Hong Kong in 1997, 18 people became infected, and six of them were hospitalized. Hong Kong’s entire poultry population was decimated in a swift response. Many believe this was the best response and prevented a pandemic.
Bird flu is a disease that can be contracted through close contact with birds and bird feces. There is no risk to most people being infected. There is currently no reason to be alarm as the incidence of the disease has been limited to very few people and only a small number of adults have been infected. For those in constant contact with birds, however, the risk is very high during local poultry outbreaks.
There is hope that bird flu won’t become another pandemic because of technological advances and lessons from previous major pandemics.