Although the Type A influenza virus which is responsible for Avian Flu (or more commonly referred to as Bird Flu) is known to be susceptible to waterfowl and poultry species only, there is a very high possibility that a new viral strain will emerge as a result of the combination of Human Influenza Virus and that of Bird Flu. This is feared to develop into a worldwide phenomenon, a pandemic which humans have no resistance to.
According to the World Health Organization, similar Flu Pandemics were experienced three times in the 20th Century. Subsequent research showed that in 1997, a sub-strain developed from the mixture and exchange of genetic materials between Human Influenza and Type A Influenza Viruses. This resulted into the discovery of H5N1 strain of influenza virus which affected 18 and killed 6 in Hongkong. In 2004, bird flu was reported to have infected 44 people in several south Asian countries, killing 32.
The H5N1 strain, according to genetic studies, is said to mutate rapidly and is passed through direct contact with poultry and water birds excreta. This explains why the outbreaks first occurred in predominant poultry-producing countries in Asia such as China and Vietnam. The strain is also said to be passed on from person to person through direct contact and in some cases, airborne through droplet infection.
Signs and symptoms include sudden onset of fever, sore throat, cough and in fatal cases, respiratory distress secondary to viral pneumonia. Anti-virals (Amantadine, Rimantadine, Oseltamivir, and Zanamivir) are drugs of choice for treatment and prophylaxis of influenza. These drugs have proven activity against the HN51 viruses. However, there are other influenza strains that can be resistant to these drugs.
World Health Organization’s list of prevention techniques include, proper hand washing and food handling, thorough cooking of poultry products such as chicken, ducks and turkeys, and avoidance of direct contact with bird excreta especially in public markets and poultry farms.