Avian influenza (AI) is an infectious viral disease of birds (especially wild water fowl such as ducks and geese), which goes undetected because of no apparent signs of illness. AI viruses can sometimes spread to domestic poultry and cause large-scale outbreaks of serious disease. Some of these AI viruses have also been reported to cross the species barrier and cause disease or subclinical infections in humans and other mammals.
The H5N1 virus subtype, a highly pathogenic AI virus, first infected humans in 1997 during a poultry outbreak in Hong Kong SAR, China. Since its widespread re-emergence in 2003 and 2004, this avian virus has spread from Asia to Europe and Africa and has become entrenched in poultry in some countries. This transfer of the virus from birds to humans has resulted in millions of poultry infections, several hundred human cases, and many human deaths. Outbreaks in poultry have seriously impacted livelihoods as well as the economy and international trade in affected countries.
Most cases of H5N1 infection are thought to have occurred as a result of direct or close contact with sick or infected poultry. That’s because there is no natural immunity from bird flu in humans. Your body cannot develop antibodies, and, typically, hospitalization is required. Because of this, anyone is at risk for avian or bird flu, and that’s one thing that raises the concern about a flu pandemic.
Influenza — commonly called “flu” — is a contagious viral infection that infects the nose, throat and lungs and normally occurs in late fall and winter months. Unlike a common cold, the flu virus has the potential to cause serious flu complications. Spreading through the upper respiratory tract and sometimes invading the lungs, the flu virus can make you very ill for a week or two — even longer if you develop complications such as pneumonia or have a chronic medical condition.
Due to the small number of human cases, it has not been possible to conduct rigorous treatment trials for bird flu. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir) are the two FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs. These work best when started at the earliest. But injudicious use, like starting the medication on every person with flu symptoms could result in resistance of the virus to these drugs. Older drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, are approved for treatment and prevention of influenza A. But many strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 influenza, are now resistant to these two drugs. Amantadine poisoning is an acute condition caused by an overdose of amantadine, a drug which is used to treat some viruses, especially influenza, While there is no treatment for amantadine poisoning, there are some supportive therapies which can be used to make the patient more comfortable, and sometimes the effects can be reversed if the condition is caught early enough. Even at the recommended dose, amantadine comes with some dangerous side-effects, including suicidal behavior and a variety of central nervous system problems like anxiety, shaking, and blurred vision. It is also dangerous to withdraw amantadine rapidly: patients must be tapered off the drug.
Kerala has confirmed that the outbreak of bird flu in the state is of the feared H5N1 strain, which is highly contagious and can be fatal to humans. Government officials said that massive culling of birds is being done to prevent the spread of the disease. The virus has killed about 15,000 infected ducks in Kottayam and another 500 in nearby Alappuzha, the first cases of the disease in the country since February this year.
As a precautionary measure it is essential that those consuming either ducks or chicken should not come in contact with the fluids of the bird’s body. Wearing gloves while cleaning in important. Making sure that the food is well cooked is mandatory since the infection doesn’t transmit via cooked food. In case what seems to be common influenza nut persists for more than a week, one must immediately visit a doctor.
– Mannat Anand