What is bird flu?

Bird flu (avian influenza) is a virus that is caught through close contact with live infected birds.

Infected birds excrete the virus in their droppings. When the droppings dry & turn to powder, they can then be inhaled by humans to cause bird flu.

Bird flu can not be passed from human to human. However, if the virus mutates, such human to human transfer could become possible. If this happens, there could be a bird flu pandemic with catastrophic effects.

There are 15 different strains of the influenza virus - the H5N1 strain is the one that infects humans.

The Health Protection Agency estimates that if a bird flu outbreak reaches the UK, around a quarter of the population could be affected.

Is it safe to eat chicken and eggs?

Yes. However, travellers going to affected areas in Asia are advised not to consume undercooked poultry, raw eggs or lightly cooked egg products (eg. runny eggs). It is also recommended to avoid unnecessary contact with live poultry.

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

Bird flu symptoms are similar to other types of flu:

- sore throat
- cough
- fever
- general aches
- malaise

Is there a bird flu vaccine?

H5N1 vaccine offers some protection against the virus. Flu vaccines are only available on prescription.

What is the treatment of bird flu?

The anti-viral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) & Relenza (zanamivir) reduce the severity of flu symptoms and can shorten the length of illness.

Taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, these anti-viral drugs attack the flu virus and stop it from spreading inside the body.

To be effective, treatment with an anti-viral drug must be started within 2 days of flu exposure. These drugs may also be indicated for the prevention of bird flu.

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