Bird flu, or avian influenza, is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of
the influenza virus. Bird flu epidemics have occurred worldwide. The recent spread of
bird flu has been localized to certain parts of Asia.
Migratory waterfowl - most notably wild ducks - are the natural reservoir of bird flu
viruses. It's suspected that infection can spread from wild fowl to domestic poultry,
including chickens and turkeys, and then to humans. Live bird markets have also
played an important role in the spread of epidemics.
The current bird flu epidemic sweeping through southeast Asia is the largest ever
recorded. Because the disease has spread to wild birds - including ducks, which carry
the virus without getting sick - it will be hard, if not impossible, to eradicate the virus.
Making matters worse, the virus has already learned to infect and kill mammals such
as tigers, domestic cats, and pigs.
Symptoms: It changes every year. Humans who have caught this year's bird flu
from chickens start out with normal flu-like symptoms. This worsens to become a
severe respiratory disease that has been fatal in a high percentage of cases.
In February 2005, researchers in Vietnam reported human cases of bird flu in which
the virus infected the brain and digestive tract of two children. Both died. These cases
make it clear that bird flu in humans may not always look like typical cases of flu.
Prevention: To prevent flu, make sure you and your family members get a flu shot
-- the essential key to flu prevention. You need it because there's no cure for the flu --
and flu complications can be really serious in some people, especially infants and
young children, elderly adults, and people with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease,
and other chronic medical problems.
Talk to your doctor to confirm if the flu shot is right for you. In addition, make sure
those around you are immunized against flu so this viral infection does not become a
"family affair" at your home.