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Avian Flu: 10 Questions, 10 Answers

What You Can Do; What the Government Is Doing

2. Is there a cure for bird flu?

No. There's no cure for any kind of flu.

The H5N1 bird flu bug has been particularly deadly for people unlucky enough to catch it from poultry. But if the bug learns to spread among humans, it almost certainly won't be as deadly as it is now, says Ira Longini, PhD, professor of biostatistics at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.

"Avian H5N1 looks like a [very high] case fatality in humans. But this has never been true of any human strain," Longini told WebMD. "There has never been any human influenza virus that has behaved that way in recorded or even unrecorded history. The case fatality of even highly virulent flu strains are a couple of deaths per 10,000 people."

3. What can I do about bird flu?

If a bird flu pandemic occurs, there's a very good way to minimize the chance of getting infected: Wash your hands. Frequent hand washing is the best way to avoid a viral infection -- including the flu. Remember to use soap and warm water, and to scrub all parts of the hand. The rule of thumb, as it were, is to scrub the hands and fingers until you finish singing the alphabet song to yourself.

Should a flu pandemic break out, pay attention to news reports, and follow public health advisories. Panic is the least helpful response to any emergency.

It's easy to come up with very scary worst-case scenarios for a bird flu pandemic. The worst case is rarely the actual case, but it's wise to be prepared for an emergency.

It's definitely a good idea to provide your household with the items in the government-recommended checklist. How much of these supplies should you have? In any given community, an outbreak is expected to last six to eight weeks. This would be followed by at least two new pandemic waves.

Do you need a protective face mask? That's one item notably missing from the government checklist.

Flu most often spreads from large droplets coughed or sneezed from a sick person. These large droplets don't travel more than 3 feet. People are most likely to spread flu viruses in the first two days of illness, although they first become infectious up to a day earlier.

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