Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
Bird Flu and You
By now, most people have heard of avian (or bird) flu. The avian flu mentioned in the media is an influenza virus (strain H5N1) that affects mainly birds and occasionally pigs. It is not the same flu that people normally get during flu season. The regular strain of influenza virus that spreads during flu season is passed from person to person through droplets in the air or from touching something that an infected person has touched. Most people are not at risk for contracting avian flu, unless he or she happens to be a farmer or someone that handles chickens or other birds, but the U.S. has not seen any cases of avian flu.
The bird flu, so far, has only been passed from bird to bird and from bird to person, not from person to person. So far, it has mainly affected birds only in Asia and Eastern Europe. People who handle infected birds, such as farmers, have caught the avian flu from them. About 100 people worldwide have been seriously infected by the avian flu and about half of this number have died as a result of their infection.
There has been a great deal of media attention and concern about the bird flu lately because it appears to be spreading from birds in Asia to birds in other countries. There is currently no vaccine to prevent humans being infected, but researchers are working on developing one in case the germ changes and starts spreading from human to human.
Though there is no immediate danger to humans from bird flu. People that have been infected were in direct contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated with infected birds’ saliva or feces. The best precaution against contracting many infectious diseases is to wash your hands frequently. This will also help protect against contracting other more common illness, such as colds and the regular flu.
If you and your family plan to travel to countries where there has been an outbreak of avian flu, including Cambodia, China, Croatia, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Romania, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, avoid contact with birds. Stay away from live bird markets, poultry farms, or other settings where there may be infected birds.
Remember – avian flu rarely spreads to humans. Health officials are taking precautions to insure that the bird flu does not spread. Countries where the virus has been detected have destroyed approximately 150 million birds. The U.S., and many other countries, are not importing poultry from countries that have had outbreaks of the virus. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine to help protect people in case the virus does mutate. Also, the strain of avian virus that has spread in Asia and Eastern Europe has not been found in birds or humans in the United States.
You can get more information about the avian flu from the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) or the World Health Organization (www.who.int/en) websites.