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Avian (Bird) Flu
What is avian (bird) flu?
Avian influenza, (influenza A (H5N1)), also called bird flu, is a very lethal virus that occurs mainly in birds. Although avian influenza viruses do not usually infect humans, several instances of human infections and outbreaks have been reported since 1997. Avian influenza A (H5N1) is of particular concern because:
What are the symptoms of avian flu?
The symptoms are similar to typical influenza: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches. These symptoms can lead to more serious symptoms, such as eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and other life-threatening complications.
How is it spread?
It is spread by touching infected birds or coming into contact with their faeces. The disease can be spread through contaminated surfaces, such as equipment, vehicles and feed to other farms or poultry markets.
Can it spread to humans?
Although rare, the H5N1 strain has spread from birds to humans. Exactly how humans become infected from birds is not known. Research has shown that the risk of spreading the infection from birds to humans is greatest in persons having close contact with live, infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. This includes high-risk exposure during the slaughter, defeathering and preparation, handling, and cooking of poultry. Since 1997 human infections with avian influenza viruses have not resulted in sustained human-to-human transmission. Scientists worry that the disease may merge with normal human influenza viruses to form a new strain of virus that allows spread between humans. This would be severe because humans would have little, if any, immunity.
What is the history of human illness?
Is there a vaccine?
There is no vaccine currently available to protect humans against disease caused by H5N1 strain. Researchers are currently working to develop a vaccine.
How is it treated?
Four different influenza antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir) are approved for the treatment and/or prophylaxis of influenza. All four have activity against influenza viruses; however, sometimes influenza strains can become resistant to these drugs causing them to be ineffective. Monitoring of avian viruses for resistance to influenza antiviral medications is ongoing by the World Health Organization.
How can I protect myself?
Where can I find out more?
World Health Organization:
World Health Organization:
Public Health Agency of Canada:
Public Health Agency of Canada travel medicine program:
Ministry of Health and Long Term Care: www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/program/emu/avian/avian_mn/html and
For more information please call Public Health at 519-376-9420 or 1-800-263-3456.
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