Bird flu is a disease caused by influenza (flu) viruses that infect birds throughout the world. Bird flu primarily infects wild birds, which usually do not become sick.
These birds have a natural immunity to the virus, but often pass it to poultry raised as livestock (chickens, turkeys and ducks). These birds can become very sick and die.
What is H5N1?
H5N1 is a subtype of Influenza A virus that occurs mainly in birds. The H5N1 virus is found in birds worldwide.
In domestic poultry, infection with avian influenza viruses causes two main forms of the disease, one that causes only mild symptoms and one that is far more dramatic and causes death in almost 100 percent of the infected poultry.
Outbreaks of influenza H5N1 have been occurri ng among poultry in eight countries in Asia since 2003 and have recently been found in wild birds in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Have any cases of bird flu been reported in the United States?
To date, no cases of bird flu in people or birds have been reported in the United States.
The potential for person-to-person transmission is a concern and health officials are carefully monitoring the situation.
Why are health experts concerned about bird flu?
As flu viruses grow inside the body, they change slightly. The virus that infects one animal will be slightly different than the virus it passes to another animal.
Health experts are concerned that the bird flu may change enough over time that it could infect and spread quickly among people. In fact, isolated forms of bird flu have directly infected humans in some countries.
How does bird flu spread?
Birds become infected when they have contact with infected fluids and droppings from other birds. Health experts believe most cases of bird flu in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.
In known outbreaks of bird flu, all infected birds and those in the same flocks have been destroyed, transportation of poultry has been halted and contaminated areas have been disinfected.
What is the risk from bird flu?
The risk is generally low for most people. However, there is a greater risk for people that are in close proximity to birds raised as livestock. In any situation, contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces should be avoided. Thoroughly cooking meats will kill the bird flu virus, so poultry is safe to eat.
What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?
Bird flu causes initial symptoms similar to human flu viruses:
Shortness of breath and eye infections may also develop
In severe cases, bird flu can cause severe respiratory complications like pneumonia, which can lead to death.
How is bird flu in humans treated?
Treatment may include hospitalization and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids. Additionally, studies suggest that anti-viral drugs help minimize the severity of bird flu in people. However, changes in the virus may limit their effectiveness in the future.
Does the yearly flu vaccine protect against bird flu?
There is no vaccine available yet to protect against bird flu.
What antiviral medications are approved to treat bird flu?
There are four antiviral medications approved to treat influenza viruses. The H5N1 virus currently infecting birds is resistant to two of these antivirals: amantadine and rimantadine.
The two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) would probably work to treat flu caused by the H5N1 virus and may help to limit illness in those exposed to the virus.
Viruses may become resistant to antivirals, which is why people should not stockpile personal supplies of prescription medications.
For more information on when to take an antiviral medication, visit the Prevention webpage.
How do I protect myself from bird flu?
Cases of bird flu have not been detected in people or birds in the United States. The same basic precautions recommended for preventing any type of flu also apply to avian flu:
Use good health habits, including frequent hand washing.
Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the used tissue in a wastebasket with a plastic liner.
Stay home from work or school when you are sick, and talk to your doctor if symptoms are severe or last for more than a few days.
Are there any special travel recommendations due to bird flu?
When traveling to countries with known outbreaks of bird flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding poultry farms and contact with live animals at food markets.
Also, do not touch any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with bird or animal droppings.
If you develop symptoms consistent with bird flu, seek medical attention and tell the medical staff about your travel history.
Travel updates can be found in the Travelers' Health section of the CDC website. If you are traveling to an affected area, visit AvianFlu.gov for tips on how to protect yourself from exposure.
What is the Southern Nevada Health District doing to prepare for bird flu?
The health district participates in ongoing planning and training exercises designed to promote preparedness for possible epidemics of any kind. This training is directly applicable to responding to a flu outbreak as well as other disease outbreaks. This training includes mass vaccination drills during flu season.
Additionally, the health district has exercised isolation and quarantine plans during past community-wide disaster drills. These planning activities help to ensure the district is prepared to respond to a variety of public health issues, including a flu outbreak.