Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Bird Watch

What can you do to prepare for the possibility of avian flu?
Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD the Magazine - Feature

After several years of educating myself so that I could answer anxious questions from my patients about nerve gas, anthrax, swine flu, mad cow disease, West Nile virus, SARS, and now bird flu, I find myself thinking wistfully back to 1963 when, as a 10-year-old, all I had to worry about was total nuclear annihilation.

Pandemic bird ("avian") flu is the latest in a series of health problems that have kept us in a heightened state of alert lately. This cannot be good for anybody's sanity. We are wired evolutionarily for brief surges of adrenaline, "fight or flight" responses that briefly put us in overdrive. But what engine can remain in overdrive for years at a time without becoming seriously fried?

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

5 Reasons Some People Fear the Swine Flu Vaccine

Why do half of Americans fear the H1N1 swine flu vaccine more than pandemic flu itself? It's a problem that bedevils the huge effort now underway to offer the vaccine to all Americans who want it. "People have concerns about vaccination ... despite the clear message from all of us in public health and doctors throughout the health care field that vaccine is our best tool to protect against the flu," CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, said at a news conference aimed at convincing U.S. residents...

Read the 5 Reasons Some People Fear the Swine Flu Vaccine article > >

I try to provide logical advice about fears that might just prove real. At the same time, I like to point out that bird flu at present is mainly a problem for birds. It is a contagious disease caused by influenza A viruses --- so far passed easily among birds, but not humans. To date, health experts know of fewer than 200 cases of human infection worldwide, and these are almost entirely in patients who had close contact with sick birds. The few cases of human-to-human transmission have required very close contact with an ill patient.

The truth is, health experts don't know what will happen if bird flu is able to spread easily from human to human. Previous flu pandemics (1918, 1957, 1968, and 1977) may be of little value in predicting a pandemic today. On the one hand, airplanes will help spread the virus more quickly than in the past. But on the other, we have far more sophisticated tools for early detection and treatment than we've ever had before.

Meanwhile, what can you do for yourself and your family?

Skip antivirals. Resist the temptation to stockpile antivirals such as Tamiflu. Shortages created by hoarding would hamper the ability to treat patients with regular flu, which affects millions of people and kills about 36,000 annually in the United States. In addition, bird flu virus will likely become resistant to antivirals if people overuse them.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
 
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
 
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
Slideshow
cold weather
VIDEO
 
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Article
Boy holding ear
Slideshow
 

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
Article
woman with fever
Article
 
Waking up from sleep
Article
woman with sore throat
Slideshow