H5N1 – The Bird Flu Pandemic Threat

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Bird Flu is nothing new. There are actually many different kinds of bird flu caused by any one of the 20 strains of influenza virus mostly affecting chickens, ducks, turkeys, and other birds.

The type of avian influenza which has scientists worried and reported recently in the news is called “H5N1”. Scientists have discovered that the H5N1 bird flu virus originated from a farm in Scotland in 1959. 40 years later, the virus has become highly pathogenic (highly infectious) among birds and in recent years has made steady progress in infecting humans.

Bird flu H5N1 is transmitted by contact with the saliva, nasal secretions and feces of infected birds, making it very easy for other birds to become infected. One of the concerns with this is that migratory birds can become infected and thus making it easy for it to spread all around the world. The first report of human infection occurred in Hong Kong in 1997. Outbreaks have occurred among poultry in 8 Asian countries from late 2003 – 2004. More than 100 million birds either died from the disease or were killed to prevent further spread. In March 2004, it was believed that the problem was under control. It wasn’t. Just a few months later in June, new deadly outbreaks began to occur and the outbreaks have been ongoing.

By July 2005, over 100 cases were confirmed in humans resulting in 60 deaths.

As the H5N1 Bird Flu Virus positions itself within the human population, it increasingly gains opportunities to mutate into a highly infectious human-to-human form.

And the process has already started…

There have been a few cases of human-to-human infection. In one case, a child had caught the virus from a bird and became ill. Her mother held her for 5 days until she died. Shortly after, the mother became ill and died. In another case, two nurses became infected after caring for sick patients who had been infected. Human-to-human infections so far appear to only occur in cases where there is very close contact.

If the H5N1 Bird Flu finally does mutate successfully, it could be passed from person-to-person as easily as the common cold. Because these types of diseases don’t generally infect humans, our immune systems are not prepared to fight them. We have no natural defense.

A pandemic occurs when an influenza virus like H5N1 mutates and spreads rapidly amongst the world population causing serious illness or death. It can’t be predicted, but with what we’ve learned from past pandemics and similar viruses, we can get a better idea of what to expect.

Famous Pandemics From The Past:

* 1918-19, “Spanish flu,” – More than 500,000 people died in the United States, and up to 50 million people may have died worldwide.

* 1957-58, “Asian flu,” – 70,000 deaths in the United States.

* 1968-69, ” Hong Kong flu,” – 34,000 deaths in the United States.

One thing everyone suspects is that we are long overdue for a pandemic, which is believed to occur every few decades. It has been more than 30 years since the last one.

The Symptoms…

Unlike some of the more feared diseases such as ebola or smallpox where the effects are striking, bird flu in humans can closely resemble any other kind of flu bug you pick up.

Fever, cough, sore throat, aches & pains… it’s as simple as that. In other cases there may be eye infections, pneumonia or severe respiratory problems. Of course the biggest symptom of all would be death. But it’s also important to remember that in the US, about 100,000 people each year are hospitalized for your conventional holiday flu that we have all suffered from at one point or another, and about 36,000 die every year from it.

Symptoms really depend on which strain of influenza virus you have. Because of the nature of H5N1 Bird Flu, it’s potential to cause serious illness and death go beyond what our bodies can handle. The incubation period for bird flu isn’t well known, but symptoms generally begin appearing within 1 to 5 days after infection.

You must meet all of these conditions in order to entertain the possibility of having bird flu:

– Temperature of 38 C / 100.4 F – Cough, sore throat, breathing problems – A history of contact with infected animals and/or people or if you travelled to an infected area.

In North America, there is a lot of talk about planning & preparedness, however, that’s all it really is – talk. A lot of countries have been stockpiling vaccines and putting on a brave face to prevent mass panic and rightfully so, but it’s also known that there is a lot to this story which isn’t being revealed. Some may actually be choosing not to report outbreaks much in the same way as occurred with SARS.

The truth of the matter is that even with all our advancements in science, medicine & technology, we are still vulnerable.

About The Author
Carole Nickerson is a writer & web developer who has been writing on various topics of interest since 1998. To read more on the topic of bird flu, visit http://www.globalbirdflu.com.

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