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 Expatriate Malaysia Health Guide -  
Bird/Avian Flu information and facts

  Bird (Avian) Flu

The H5N1 avian flu virus has killed 65 people in Asia since late 2003. Here are some facts about H5N1 avian flu:

What is "Bird Flue" or avian influenza?

Avian influenza, or “bird flu”, is a contagious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs. Avian influenza viruses are highly species-specific, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

There 15 strains of flu that affect birds, but the one causing the amplifying global scare is the H5N1 subtype. It has circulated in migrating wild birds for years and has spread to poultry flocks, starting in South-East Asia, spreading to Russia and now reaching Europe. It is highly lethal to domesticated birds.

How do people become infected?

Direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces, is presently considered the main route of human infection. To date, most human cases have occurred in rural or periurban areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of virus in their faeces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions. Moreover, because many households in Asia depend on poultry for income and food, many families sell or slaughter and consume birds when signs of illness appear in a flock, and this practice has proved difficult to change. Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, defeathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking. There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection.

Which countries have been affected by outbreaks in poultry?
From mid-December 2003 through early February 2004, poultry outbreaks caused by the H5N1 virus were reported in eight Asian nations (listed in order of reporting): the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Indonesia, and China. Most of these countries had never before experienced an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in their histories.

In early August 2004, Malaysia reported its first outbreak of H5N1 in poultry, becoming the ninth Asian nation affected. Russia reported its first H5N1 outbreak in poultry in late July 2005, followed by reports of disease in adjacent parts of Kazakhstan in early August. Deaths of wild birds from highly pathogenic H5N1 were reported in both countries. Almost simultaneously, Mongolia reported the detection of H5N1 in dead migratory birds. In October 2005, H5N1 was confirmed in poultry in Turkey and Romania. Outbreaks in wild and domestic birds are under investigation elsewhere.

Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Malaysia have announced control of their poultry outbreaks and are now considered free of the disease. In the other affected areas, outbreaks are continuing with varying degrees of severity.

What are the symptoms?

Bird flu in humans causes symptoms that are like human flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, conjunctivitis, pneumonia and other severe respiratory diseases.

The risk?
At present, H5N1 is not easily transmitted from bird to human. In other words, a person would have to pick up a lot of virus in order to be infected. Nor is it easily passed from human to human: there have been only three suspected cases, in Thailand, Hong Kong and Vietnam, where this is believed to have happened. The big worry, though, is that H5N1 could pick up genes from conventional human flu viruses, making it both highly lethal and highly infectious. Because it would be a radically new pathogen, no one would have any immunity to it.  

The Vaccine
No definitive vaccine against the viral threat is available, because no one knows the precise shape that it will take after mutating to the feared highly contagious form. Several prototypes are being explored, but the risk is that they could be only partially effective or even useless because the virus’ genetic shape will have changed and will not be recognised by antibodies. If a pandemic does occur, one worry is about manufacturing capacity and distribution: making enough of the vaccine and getting it on time and to the right people, without causing panic or a black market or leaving poor countries helpless.  
              



Links:
1. World Health Organisation (WHO) - Avian influenza frequently asked questions

2. Avian Influenza Infection in Humans - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

3. www.flu.com.sg (full of related and latest information)


Other health related articles:
- Influenza A(H1N1), Swine Influenza info, symptoms, transmission, prevention, treatment in Malaysia

-
Dengue Fever info, symptoms, transmission, prevention,
 treatment in Malaysia


- Chikungunya fever, symptoms and the prevention in Malaysia

-
Hand Foot Mouth Disease HFMD info, symptoms, transmission, prevention, treatment in Malaysia


-
Medical Services in Malaysia for Expatriates

 


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