Bird flu is a form of influenza that is caused by avian influenza type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally in aquatic birds around the world and can infect domestic poultry and other birds. While the virus rarely infects humans, more than 600 cases of bird flu in humans over the past decade have raised some alarms for health experts.
Most cases of bird flu in humans have occurred in Southeast Asia, in countries including Vietnam and Indonesia. Though the disease is rare, it's concerning because it causes a high death rate in humans if not treated.
Bird Flu: What You Need to Know
Instances of bird flu in humans are very rare. Most of the documented cases that have occurred were due to human contact with sick or dead poultry. In extremely rare instances, the disease was passed from one person to another.
When bird flu does occur, it seems to primarily affect children and adults younger than 40. The symptoms of this flu virus vary based on how “pathogenic” (disease-producing) it is. Low-pathogenic bird flu virus often causes flu-like symptoms and a mild respiratory infection. In the rare instances of high-pathogenic bird flu, however, the symptoms can include severe respiratory problems, organ failure, neurological changes, seizures and death.
Another fear related to bird flu is the belief that the virus has become resistant to flu medications. Though it's true that the bird flu virus has shown resistance to two flu drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, two other antiviral medications are effective in treating it: oseltamivir and zanamivir. In addition, getting a flu vaccination each year provides additional protection against the bird flu virus.
Although the chances of catching bird flu are currently very slim, it always pays to be vigilant. Carefully monitor any flu-like symptoms, and talk with your doctor if they persist for more than a couple of days or worsen.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Lung Association.
H7N9 is still confined to China, but new research suggests potential for wider transmission
New York City health department says veterinarian treating sick cats likely was infected with the virus
A child's first flu infection appears to affect which new viruses they'll be protected against in the future
Scientists recommend keeping wild birds away from poultry farms
But odds are slim that deadly virus will spread easily among people, experts say
Previously, the spread has been limited to within families, researchers say
Two studies show promising results
Just a few changes are needed for circulating strains to become contagious to humans, study finds
New analysis of H7N9 strain might ease concerns of possible pandemic
Scientists aren't sure about the potential threat posed by the H6N1 virus
Cases dropped quickly and dramatically, researchers found
British study found people with more of certain virus-killing immune cells fared better during swine flu pandemic
Single reported case does not mean pandemic is likely, although vigilance is needed, experts say
For now, however, the virus doesn't transfer well from human to human, experts say
Current tests don't detect strains that won't respond to antiviral medication, study says
They looked at transmission between humans and mammals in lab
But strains scientists conjure up in the lab are unlikely to occur in nature, one expert says
But researchers cautioned that genetic makeup of the H7N9 virus is changing to adapt it for mammal infection
U.S. still on hold, but scientists in other countries ready to end moratorium
Few mutations needed to allow airborne spread of H5N1 virus in mammals, scientists find
Researchers found the virus could potentially mutate and spread widely among people, but that hasn't happened so far
Revisions to the research erase worry that bioterrorists might learn how to unleash a pandemic
Millions may have had virus without noticing it, researchers find
Experts said security risk was outweighed by need to share findings on possible mutations by the virus
Published details of experiments could be used for harmful purposes, experts warn
Fears that altered virus could escape from lab or be used by bioterrorists feeds debate
But general public should not be concerned, CDC says