Saturday, October 6, 2007

>>What is avian flu?

What is avian flu?

Avian flu describes the form of influenza viruses that ostensibly infects only birds. These can be birds that live in the wild, such as swans, ducks or geese, or birds bred in factory conditions for human consumption, such as chickens or turkeys.

It has been a known fact and for some time, that birds, in any form, appear to be widespread carriers of a many natural variations of the flu virus, Experts calculate that there may be as many as fifteen different varieties of influenza affecting the bird population of the globe.

These forms of flu are generally pretty mild, and rarely display symptoms or cause widespread fatalities. However, and especially when the birds are bred in close proximity to one and other in an enclosed environment, there are some forms of flu viruses that are both highly contagious and especially viral in their form.

Known as "highly pathogenic avian influenza" these epidemics can cause widespread fatalities in a bird population in a matter of hours. One particularly viral form of avian flu has been active in Asia intermittently for the last decade. In 1997, when this form of avian flu was first detected. researchers were both surprised and alarmed to discover that this was a virus which had the ability and could occasionally infect humans. Almost without exception, the cases reported were among people who were handling live chickens or turkeys in coups. Known in scientific circles as "species jumping" there arose a genuine fear that an avian flu virus bearing highly pathogenic characteristics could be merged with an influenza virus in human form.

That this virus was shown to be fatal in most cases to the avian populations meant that the greatest fears of researchers into the spread of a pandemic that would affect both birds and humans as one.

If this were to happen, the result could be a global flu pandemic that would make the previous one that took place almost one hundred years previously seem like a picnic. Known as the Spanish pandemic of 1918-1919, it saw the deaths of between 20 and 40 million people.

This was more than the recently ended World War One. The Spanish Flue Pandemic is generally regarded as the most devastating epidemic in world history to date. Bearing in mind that this pandemic took place before international travel was commonplace and was confined mainly to Europe, if there were to a be global avian flu pandemic in the 21st century the consequential loss of life could have been indeed catastrophic.

In order to contain the spread of the pandemic, initially many of the Asian countries were required to cull entire poultry stocks. However there was little to be done to prevent the disease from spreading through wild fowl and these were found to be the principal carriers and spreaders of the virus.

So how does the avian flu spread to humans? Theory has it that if a person, who is suffering from a human viral flu, comes into contact with a bird who is suffering from avian flu, there is a remote possibility that the two strains may combine to create a new strain that will be based on the avian flu virus. This would mean that the avian flu’s highly pathogenic characteristics could be passed on to humans, both rapidly and with the capability of causing tremendous and widespread fatalities.

Thankfully, till now, this has not been the case. There have been human fatalities from avian flu, but they have been numbered in the low hundreds in total over the last ten years. And the Avian Flu viruses (i.e. H5N1, H7N3 have still been contained in people who have been in daily contact with live poultry.

The symptoms of avian flu are similar to human flu, and they are a high fever, a dry cough, sore throat and aching muscles. In advanced forms of avian flu, the patient may experience problems with breathing that can develop into pneumonia. This form of complication, in many cases, can prove fatal.

The threat of a pandemic of avian flu affecting humans has not yet happened. Scientists have not dismissed the likelihood of this happening in the future. All that it would take would be a chain of events that theoretically could occur but are unlikely to do so. People who travel to the far eastern countries should avoid contact with people who are involved in the poultry industry, especially if they are suffering from influenza. An unfortunate chain of events like that could spark of a global avian influenza pandemic.

Frank j Vanderlugt owns and operates 2 Avianflusymptonscom
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By: Frank Vanderlugt

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