[HEALTH]Ducking the risks of bird influenza

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[HEALTH]Ducking the risks of bird influenza

Two words are enough to make poultry farmers shake with fear and induce collective paranoia across the world ― bird flu. On Tuesday, one more person died from bird flu in Indonesia, while the H5N1 variety, the cause of much fear, was discovered in Anhui, China the same day. Even the European Union has halted the import of birds to block the virus.
The fear is genuine ― in cases of human infection mortality is 60 percent, and if the virus mutates and becomes transmissible from human to human the world would face a pandemic that could lead to up to 100 million deaths. In addition, flu pandemics are cyclical, and experts warn we are about due for another one.
In Korea, despite no reported cases so far, the consumption of chicken, ducks and eggs has dramatically decreased.
Increasing the fear of bird flu is the fact that an effective vaccine for the H5N1 strain has yet to be developed, even though many countries are working on it. Hungary, France, Britain and other nations are allegedly close to developing a vaccine, but such good news has yet to be forthcoming from the World Health Organization.
A piece of bad news for researchers, however, is that the Los Alamos Influenza Sequence Database, the world’s largest pool of data on influenza in the United States, is no longer providing information for free, making it more difficult for developing countries to study vaccines.
Here is some general information on bird flu.

What is bird flu?
Bird flu, or avian influenza, is caused by several viruses, one of which is the H5N1 virus. It is generating fear because it infects not only birds, but also some mammals including pigs and humans. Bird flu was first seen in Italy in the early 1900s.

How do people get infected with bird flu?
So far, only those having direct contact with infected poultry in farms have contracted the disease. Because flu-infected birds are immediately disposed of, there is a very low chance of catching it from meat bought in regular markets. Even eating infected meat is safe as long as it is fully cooked. The virus is killed completely at temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit). Hard-boiled eggs are also safe.
Can it spread between humans?
There has been one possible case in which people hypothesized that a mother caught the flu from her daughter, but this was not scientifically proven.

Why is H5N1 particularly dangerous among bird flu viruses?
Scientists say that among many different types of bird flu, H5N1 reproduces very quickly and can combine with other viruses, mutating to become a new strain. Also, H5N1 is active for longer than ten days in droppings or saliva from infected birds.

Can “Tamiflu,” a drug that is currently the only known cure, be preventive as well?
A five-day course of Tamiflu relieves the symptoms of bird flu and helps recovery. However, it only works on patients who are already infected. Tamiflu does not work as a vaccine.

Is getting vaccine shots for regular flu helpful in preventing bird flu?
Since the characteristics of the bird flu and “regular” flu are different, it is too much to expect any big effect from a vaccine shot. However, it can be helpful by reducing the chances of the bird flu virus from combining with a human flu virus.
Why are there a lot more bird flu patients in Asian countries than in other parts of the world?
About 90 percent of the bird meat in the world is produced in Southeast Asia and northern parts of China. Also, people working on farms there usually live close to their birds and are more vulnerable to infection. Also, sanitary conditions are less than ideal on many farms, increasing the risk of infection.

Eating cooked bird meat is known to be safe, but is it dangerous to touch raw chicken or duck meat before they are cooked?
Infected chickens and ducks are generally killed and disposed of immediately, so sales of infected bird meat is very rare. However, even after directly touching infected bird meat, the chance of catching the virus is extremely low, since the virus usually lives in bird droppings.

Is it dangerous to travel to areas where there are migratory birds?
There has been no clear evidence of migrating birds infecting humans. Also, the regions with bird flu do not necessarily have migrating birds. But it is recommended to maintain individual hygiene when traveling to wild bird habitats.

Symptoms of bird flu infection:
Fever, cough, muscle pain and other signs similar to regular flu. A serious infection can cause death from pneumonia.

How to protect yourself and your family from bird flu
1. Make sure to fully cook chicken or duck meat, and hard-boil eggs.
2. Wash hands with soap for at least 10 to 15 seconds OR use a hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom, caring for a sick person and handling garbage or animal waste.
3. Keep living and work areas clean using cleansing agents, bleach or alcohol.
4. Avoid crowds and limit travel.

by Choi Sun-young
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