Understanding Bird Flu

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, occurs when a flu virus from an infected bird infects a human. Although it is rare, it can happen in certain situations and can cause a range of symptoms. At Golden Triangle Emergency Center we encourage anyone who suspects they may have come into contact with an infected bird to seek immediate medical attention.

How Bird Flu is Spread

Birds that are infected with the avian influenza virus carry it in their mucous, saliva, and feces. A person may come into contact with the virus and then bring their hand to their face, mouth, or nose or the virus can be carried in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and be breathed in by humans. While it has been found to be very rare for bird flu to spread from one person to another, it is still important to practice caution around others if infection has occurred. Humans who come into contact with the virus can experience a myriad of symptoms.

Symptoms of Bird Flu

The bird flu can be categorized as low pathogenic or high pathogenic. Humans who have low pathogenic bird flu may experience flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches, cough, fever, sore throat, conjunctivitis, or pneumonia. High pathogenic bird flu can lead to all of those symptoms or more severe symptoms such as severe respiratory illness with multi-organ disease and neurologic changes. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should receive immediate medical attention.

Treatment of the Bird Flu

Humans who have bird flu symptoms may be prescribed one of a number of drugs that have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The drugs that are currently being prescribed are zanamivir, peramivir, and oseltamivir. However, because viruses can become resistant to drugs over time, continual monitoring of their results is being done and new ones may replace them if need be.

People who have been in contact with birds that have been infected with the avian virus may also be given antiviral drugs even if they are not yet experiencing any symptoms. Doing this can reduce the risk of infection.

Detection of the Bird Virus

While the previous listed symptoms can indicate the presence of bird flu in humans, additional lab tests are performed to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Typically this is done by swabbing the throat or nose of the potentially affected person during the initial days of the illness. For patients who are seriously ill, specimens of the lower respiratory tract will be taken. The swab is then sent to the lab to be tested. Depending on the lab and the situation, the bird flu virus can be seen by either growing the virus or via a molecular test.

It is more difficult to detect the bird flu in individuals who have almost or completely recovered. In certain cases, blood tests can find the virus due to particular antibodies that have been produced to fight off the avian virus. This only works, however, by taking one blood sample during the initial week of symptoms and then a second sample around three to four weeks later. The testing needs to be done in a special laboratory and the results take a few weeks, so this is not a common way of detecting the virus.

Although getting infected with the bird flu is rare, the prognosis is not good, with a death rate around 60%. Because of this, it is important to seek immediate medical treatment if you have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of, bird flu or any other major disease. Golden Triangle Emergency Center is here to help with industry-leading medical care.