Avian Flu, or Avian influenza, is a viral infection that is found in birds. It's found throughout the world in both wild and domestic species. Normally, a flu virus is found in one species and only infects that species in particular (humans, birds, pigs, horses, etc.). However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), certain strains of Avian Flu have already resulted in mild symptoms in humans; in the case of the H5N1 strain it is more serious, even fatal.
The majority of Avian Flu cases in humans have been attributed to direct contact with infected birds. The risk of getting Avian Flu in Canada is extremely small however the WHO is closely monitoring the spread and the evolution of the virus in order to avoid an epidemic.
The fact that the H5N1 virus has spread between species is worrisome. More than 100 cases in humans have been reported since 2004. Studies have shown that infected persons had been in contact with sick or dead birds.
What precautions should we take?
Advice for the general public (at home or while travelling):
- Never touch a sick or dead bird and make sure your children understand this as well.
- Make sure your children do not touch birds at a farm or a market, or wild birds in parks or forests.
- Make sure that all poultry (domestic or wild) prepared for meals is very well cooked (clear cooking juices and no pink flesh) in order to eliminate the risk of infection.
- Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before handling any food and after handling any poultry or eggs.
- Keep poultry and egg products well protected from other food items.
- Use hot soapy water to thoroughly clean cooking utensils and surfaces.
As previously mentioned the risk of getting Avian Flu in Canada is very rare but the risk of getting seasonal influenza is greater. Here are several tips to protect against this type of flu:
- Get vaccinated for the flu every year
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water
What are the symptoms to watch out for with Avian Flu?
According to the WHO, Avian Flu symptoms are similar to those of regular flu but the incubation period is longer (2 to 17 days) than that of a seasonal flu (2 to 3 days). What's more the symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Here are certain symptoms which have been identified:
- High fever (higher than 39 ºC)
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Coughing with traces of blood
- Acute encephalitis
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding of the nose or gums
There is no vaccine available against Avian Flu. The WHO reports that certain antiviral medications, in particular oseltamivir (Tamiflu), can help control the onset of the illness if they are administered within 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms but research on this is very limited.