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Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) - Overview

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At first, the symptoms of bird flu can be the same as common flu symptoms, such as:

  • A fever.
  • A cough.
  • A sore throat.
  • Muscle aches.

Bird flu may also cause an eye infection (conjunctivitis).

But bird flu can quickly progress to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, a serious lung problem that can be deadly. For the people who die from bird flu, the average length of time from the start of symptoms until death is 9 to 10 days.1

Call your doctor right away if you have traveled somewhere or live in an area where there is bird flu and you have a fever and a hard time breathing.

How is bird flu diagnosed and treated?

If your doctor thinks that you may have bird flu, he or she will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and past health. Your doctor will also ask where you live, where you have traveled recently, and if you have been near any birds. Then your doctor may order blood tests, nasal swabs, or other tests, such as X-rays, to help find out what is making you sick.

Some questions your doctor might ask are:

  • Have you been within 3 ft (1 m) of live, sick, or dead poultry, or with wild birds?
  • Have you eaten raw or poorly cooked poultry or eggs?
  • Have you had close contact (touching or speaking distance) with someone from an area affected with H5N1 bird flu virus who has a severe respiratory illness or who later died from an unknown cause?
  • Are you a lab or poultry worker who might have been exposed to H5N1 bird flu virus?

How bird flu is treated depends on what the virus is doing to your body. In some cases, antiviral medicines may help you feel better. But experts are concerned that certain antiviral medicines may not work against bird flu. Viruses become resistant when they change over time, and then the medicines that worked in the past no longer work well.

If you have bird flu, you will stay in a private hospital room (isolation room) to reduce the chances of spreading the virus to others. When your doctors and nurses are caring for you, they will wear gloves and gowns. Some people who have bird flu may need a machine called a ventilator to help them breathe better. Other people may need a machine to help the kidneys work better (dialysis). More than half of the time, bird flu leads to death.

How can bird flu be prevented?

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are preparing for the possibility that bird flu could spread to people all over the world in what is called a pandemic. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first vaccine for humans against bird flu. Immunization is not currently recommended for the public. The vaccine will be kept in the U.S. government stockpile.2 Officials are also storing up large supplies of antiviral medicines. The U.S. government has also developed a flu plan. This is a plan to prepare for a pandemic and to make sure that as few people as possible get the virus.

1|2|3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 10, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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