Bird flu is a relatively common virus infection among birds. The bird’s droppings and excretions in aquatic bodies – notably migrating waterfowl, geese, and ducks are the natural flu carriers. These birds often travel and migrate long distances and transmit carried viruses to terrestrial birds and poultry farms.
The influenza family consists of numerous viruses, which affect especially birds, some animals, and humans. Avian influenza, also recognized as bird flu, is a viral infection caused by the Influenza type-A virus that exclusively infects wild and poultry birds.
Most bird flu strains are relatively harmless to humans, but some low pathogenic avian influenza can be transmitted to humans from birds, causing various severe diseases. The strains of bird flu virus that cause outbreaks in commercial birds and poultry farms are:
- H5N1- This is a common type of bird flu virus that causes acute respiratory infections in birds and can spread to humans. The chance of transmission among humans is significantly less and difficult.
H5N6 and H7N9 viruses are a threat to bird death, and usually don’t affect people easily, and won’t be transmitted among humans. The H5N8 virus has not affected any people to date. Some variants cause mild symptoms, affect the production of eggs in birds, and cause fatal deaths.
Mammals such as pigs, horses, dogs, cats, and other livestock also get infected by birds. If any type of virus strains are detected in poultry holdings, immediate precautionary measures have to be taken to prevent potential avian-to-human diseases. Without specific preventive measures, there could be a fatal loss of lives.
Is bird flu a deadly or contagious virus?
Bird flu is a contagious virus and poses serious health issues to birds and humans who contact carriers. Wild birds carry this virus in their intestine and usually don’t get the virus’s severe illness. But it is very deadly among domesticated birds such as ducks and chickens, makes them sick, and even kills their population.
Bird flu can reassort or swap genetics and result in a new subtype non-identical from their parent virus.
Avian influenza can be crossbred with human flu and transmit from human-human through airborne droplets, driven by sneezing and cough, which can become a pandemic. Humans rarely get infected with bird flu. It can be contagious and deadly once infection occurs.
Most of the bird flu viruses cause only mild illnesses such as conjunctivitis or fever in humans. A few viruses, notably A(H7N9) and A(H5N1) cause severe infections requiring intensive care and hospitalization and even mortality in humans.
The H5N1 virus was first discovered in 1997 and killed nearly 60 percent of infected birds and humans.
How does bird flu transmit to humans?
The influenza virus can infect humans through close contiguity with infected live or dead birds. The H5N1 virus can survive for a certain period. The infected birds shed viruses in their droppings and feces that lives for more than ten days. Touching contaminated surfaces is also a transmission route.
Bird flu can be transmitted to humans in situations including:
- Contact or exposure to infected birds nasal secretions or secretion from the eyes or mouth
- Contact with bedding or feces of infected birds
- During killing and preparing infected poultry bird for cooking
- Open-air markets where live poultry are sold in-crowd and unsanitary conditions
- Traveling flu outbreak countries or visiting infected, contaminated poultry
- No direct contact with raw meat and blood
- Consuming undercooked infected eggs or poultry
Some people get infected after bathing or swimming in water bodies contaminated with infected bird feces.
Mostly reported human cases to occur in people having close contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with infected droppings and nasal secretions.
Does bird flu spread from eggs?
There is a high probability of humans getting affected by the H5N1 virus on consuming raw eggs from infected birds. They also have chances to be transmitted to human-humans who have close contact with the infected people.
Consuming properly cooked or thoroughly boiled eggs from infected birds does not spread contagious viruses. But the eggs served runny from infected birds cause severe illness and health issues to humans.
Steer clear the raw eggs because the eggshell and stray also often carry virus-contaminated feces and nasal secretions of diseased birds.
Even though heat destroys avian viruses in cooked poultry foods, it’s better to take proper precautions when preparing and handling poultry products that may have harmful bacteria or salmonella contamination.
Does bird flu spread from infected bird meat?
The process of killing and preparing meat for cooking food poses a great threat of passing avian influenza viruses from diseased birds to humans.
The raw and red meat of infected poultry such as ducks, chicken, turkeys, geese, and fowl would be safe if cooked under an internal temperature of 165 Fahrenheit. Cooking at a high temperature ensures the killing of the inactive H1N5 virus in the meat.
When diseased birds are home slaughtered, de-feathered, eviscerated, and subsequent handling of raw meat before cooking can transfer the virus to humans through direct contact.
Most of the virus strains are found in the infected bird’s respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, not flesh. However, H5N1 highly pathogenic strain can spread to virtually all parts of the diseased birds, including meat and egg. People should intake meat, eggs, and other poultry products after cooking at a proper temperature.
Exposure to the surface contaminated with the virus or inhaling the virus through dried feces or nasal secretions in the poultry can cause serious health illness.
People have to use proper gloves and masks while handling raw meat. Use hot and soapy water to wash hands, utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces that come in contact with raw meat during the slaughtering process.
What are the bird flu symptoms in birds?
The poultry workers have to be aware of the symptoms of bird flu among birds in poultry that includes
- The sudden death of birds without any symptoms
- Purple discoloration of the legs, combs, and wattles
- Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs
- Lack of appetite
- Swelling of the eyelids, comb, wattles, hocks, and head
- Nasal secretions
- Coughing and sneezing
- Less production of legs
Suppose any birds have the above symptoms in poultry. In that case, workers have to take immediate steps to protect themselves and other workers and quarantine farms to prevent diseases to humans and other livestock.
What are the symptoms of the bird flu in humans?
The symptoms of avian influenza in humans are similar to the signs of conventional flu, and in the beginning, bird flu can mimic a common cold. The initial stage symptoms may include
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
As the virus progresses in a human system, symptoms get worse and includes:
- A very high temperature above 100.4 Fahrenheit or shivery or feeling hot
- Body chills
- Nasal congestion
Some people may experience vomiting, nausea or diarrhea, and mild eye-infection (conjunctivitis), which are all symptoms of the infection. The signs and symptoms may appear within 2-3 days of the flu infection.
The high-risk people for bird flu include those have weakened immune system and also,
- Infants under two years old
- Old aged people above 65 years
- With comorbidities
- Pregnant ladies or recently given birth
- Younger people taking aspirin or salicylate filled medicines
- Has chronic health issues like asthma, heart diseases, diabetes, or HIV
Most humans may recover from bird flu, but sometimes it develops more severe complications and life-threatening secondary infections such as bronchitis, ear infection, and pneumonia. Seeking medical attention and care at an early stage, using antiviral medicine will prevent the risk of developing severe illness and further complications.
How to prevent bird flu?
The best protective measure to prevent avian influenza is to avoid direct contact with diseased birds and virus-contaminated environments.
You have to take necessary precaution measurements to prevent bird flu infection, especially if you are traveling to any foreign land that had a flu outbreak includes:
- Practice good hygiene – Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling raw meats and poultry products. It is best to use 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer while traveling infected areas.
- Avoid contact with poultry farms and livestock
- Don’t try to bring back poultry live birds or feathers to home.
- Unhygienic open-air market – Avoid visiting markets or retail shops selling poultry meat.
- Don’t eat red meat or raw poultry meat
- Don’t consume raw or undercooked eggs
- Consult with your doctor about avian flu precautions and how to reduce the risk of infection before traveling
Is there a vaccine available for avian influenza?
There is currently no vaccine available for humans against bird flu. The vaccine used to cure the seasonal influenza virus does not protect against bird flu.
The antiviral medicines may make the infections less severe and also helps to prevent flu transmission among people. The governments have the vaccine for one type of H1N5 strain virus and would distribute it to the commoners if there is an outbreak of the virus from person-person.
Either way, it is always better to stay cautious of these infecting parasites.