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Understanding Bird Flu: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatments and prevention

Team AckoApr 19, 2024

According to the World Health Organization, since the first case of Bird Flu A(H5N1) at a poultry farm in Maharashtra in February 2006, India has recorded outbreaks every year. Along with affecting birds, this virus has claimed human lives in recent years. Thus, being aware of the symptoms is very important. In this article, we will dive deep into the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatments, and prevention methods of the Bird Flu disease.




What is Bird Flu?

Bird Flu is a disease caused by infection from the Avian (bird) Influenza (flu) Type A virus. These viruses can cause diseases in livestock and other bird and mammal species. Normally, humans cannot contract Bird Flu viruses. However, there have been isolated cases of human infections in the past in India. 

Signs and symptoms of Bird Flu

Most people who have shown signs of the Bird Flu have been in close proximity to sick birds. It has occasionally been transferred from one individual to another as well. Depending on the strain, Bird Flu symptoms may appear two to seven days after infection. They typically share symptoms of seasonal influenza.

Here are some symptoms you may suffer from if you have Bird Flu.

  • Gut issues including nausea, stomach aches, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

  • Breathing issues including severe respiratory distress or failure, shortness of breath, or pneumonia.

  • Neurological issues, including changes in the brain or nervous system. This can result in changes in behaviour, cognition, or even organ performance. In severe circumstances, seizures are possible.

Occasionally, the only symptom of the illness is a minor eye infection (conjunctivitis).

What causes Bird Flu?

Birds with the virus expel it through their faeces, mucus, and saliva. Humans can get infected when the virus comes in contact with a person's nose, mouth, or eyes or if they breathe the contaminated air. The most common way Bird Flu viruses have infected humans is through unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces. However, as per the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain infections have been found in cases when there was no documented direct contact with diseased birds or their habitat.

Researchers in Vietnam reported human cases of Bird Flu in February 2005, infecting two children's brains and gastrointestinal tracts. Both passed away. These incidents show that human instances of Bird Flu may not always resemble ordinary flu cases.

Scientists have found more than a dozen different Bird Flu strains or variations. According to the World Health Organization, H5N1 is one of the most lethal forms for humans. It has been responsible for 456 deaths globally since 2003.

Diagnosis of Bird Flu

Bird Flu cannot be identified just by symptoms. A swab from the patient's nose or throat is used to diagnose Bird Flu, and the sample is sent to a lab where a molecular test can be used to find the virus.

It can be challenging to detect the virus in a person who is no longer severely ill or has recovered completely. The test is most effective when the sample is collected within the initial days of a person's condition.

Treatment for Bird Flu

If there is a suspicion that you may have Bird Flu, you will either be advised to stay at home or treated in a hospital away from other patients. An antiviral medication, such as Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or Zanamivir (Relenza), may be administered to you.

Antiviral medications aid in easing the symptoms, avoiding complications, and increasing survival rates. They may also be administered to those who have had direct contact with diseased birds or those who have interacted with infected individuals, such as family members or medical personnel.

How can I prevent Bird Flu?

The people who work with poultry are at a greater risk of being affected by Bird Flu. If you work in the poultry sector, you must take safety precautions, including always wearing protective gear.

Here are more tips to prevent Bird Flu.

  • When travelling, stay away from poultry markets and farms if you don't work in the poultry sector.

  • Exercise caution if you come into contact with wild ducks or other waterfowls.

  • Always wash your hands properly, and refrain from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • If you do go to a place where there have been instances of Bird Flu, be sure to call your doctor immediately when you start to feel sick.

  • Farmers and processors of poultry must be aware of any local cases of Bird Flu and stop operations immediately.

  • Prevent visiting tiny farms that raise numerous birds together.

  • Avoid eating raw eggs or foods that might contain raw eggs (e.g., mayonnaise, ice cream).

  • Avoiding open-air marketplaces will help prevent Bird Flu.

  • Use a hand sanitiser or constantly wash your hands with soap and water.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common questions and answers about Bird Flu.

Can you treat Bird Flu?


Drugs that fight seasonal viruses can be used to treat Bird Flu. For those who contract this disease, the CDC advises seeking treatment as soon as possible by using flu antiviral medications.

What does the avian flu in chickens look like?


When HPAI affects chickens, the respiratory (gasping) and intestinal (extreme diarrhoea) symptoms are typically followed by rapid death. In chickens, swelling may occur around the eyes, neck, and skull. The head and legs may also have purple discolouration.

Can consuming chicken spread the flu?


No human Bird Flu infections have been documented when handling poultry flesh properly or eating correctly prepared poultry or related products. Thus, consuming chicken may not spread the flu if cooked at higher temperatures.

Can birds recover from Bird Flu?


The most dangerous kind is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Birds frequently die from it. The main clinical symptom of HPAI in birds is a rapid and sudden spike in the number of birds found dead. So, it is difficult for birds to recover from Bird Flu.

How should I look after myself if I get the Bird Flu?


Flu treatment is similar to the treatment for other seasonal flu infections. Here are some tips that will help you cope with this disease better.

  • Follow the dose of medicine prescribed by your doctor.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of liquids.

  • Follow a strict routine to ensure hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and sanitise the objects you use to avoid spreading the virus to other people.

  • Rest well.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.



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