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General information on Bird Flu
Bird flu is a disease caused by type "A" influenza viruses.
Wild birds are a natural reservoir of type A of flu virus, but they are not affected by it. They can infect domestic birds such as chicken or turkey, which get ill and die.
Birds get infected if they get in contact with secretions or excretions of the affected birds, with contaminated water or food and even with contaminated surfaces (dirt and cages).
The avian influenza viruses can cause a mild form of the disease that does not kill the infected birds, and it only reduces the egg production, and a highly virulent form that can lead to death within 48 hours by multiple internal organ lesions.
Type A of influenza virus has many different subtypes due to changes in some proteins situated on the surface of the A virus. These changeable proteins are Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA). There exist 16 known HA subtypes and 9 NA subtypes of "A" virus, but there are possible many combinations between HA and NA proteins, leading to new subtypes. All these subtypes can now be found in birds.
Until 1997 nobody knew that the virus can affect humans, but it has happened to those who have been in close contact with infected poultry. Until now, no cases of human to human transmission of the infection were registered.
Human influenza viruses generally refer to those subtypes that can infect only humans. There are known to exist three "A" subtypes of human influenza viruses (H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2). There is the possibility that these subtypes to have came from birds originally and scientists worry about the possibility that the bird flu viruses to mutate and transmit from human to human.
Some symptoms of bird flu infection on humans are: fever, lethargy, sore throat, breathing problems, conjunctivitis, muscle aches and cough.
Studies suggest that antiviral drugs used against human influenza might be useful in treating bird flu infection in humans too, but this thing must be studied more.
The H5N1 virus is one of the most lethal subtypes of the influenza "A" virus. In the last few years, in Asia, H5N1 caused millions of deaths among domestic birds and hundreds among humans. People got infected because they got in close contact with the infected poultry and the contaminated surfaces, but otherwise H5N1 remains a rare disease in people and does not spread from human to human.
There was one case in Indonesia where a family member is suspected to have transmitted the illness to the other members, but this fact has not been sustained scientifically.
Scientists are concerned about a possible mutation of the virus, leading to a global pandemic, similar to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 when 40-50 million people died.
Doctors have discovered that H5N1 virus is resistant amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral drugs used for treating human influenza. There remain oseltamavir and zanamavir to be tested.
A H5N1 vaccine is being tested and the results seem to be promising, this leading to an absolute control over the bird flu and even to its eradication.
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