Bird Flu (cont.)

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What are the complications of bird flu?

The complications of bird flu can be dire. Pneumonia, ARDS, lung collapse, respiratory failure requiring intubation, heart problems, kidney dysfunction, and other problems related to hypoxia and its damage to other organ systems may occur even if the patient survives a severe infection. However, death occurs in about 60% of those patients who become infected with bird flu.

What is the prognosis of bird flu?

The prognosis of bird flu in humans range from poor to occasionally fair to good if the patient only suffers a few of the less severe complications listed above. However, the prognosis is often poor as only about 40% of those individuals infected actually survive the bird flu infection.

Is it possible to prevent a bird flu infection?

Currently, there have been no outbreaks of bird flu in the U.S. Recommendations apply mainly for those areas where bird flu outbreaks occurred. The CDC recommends the best way to prevent bird flu is to avoid those areas in the world where outbreaks of bird flu have occurred. However, some general guidelines for prevention or risk reduction are as follows:

  • Practice safe food handling practices: As with all meat, including poultry, when handling or cooking, wash hands with soap and water and disinfect all surfaces such as cutting boards and countertops that contact any raw meats. Viruses can remain active in raw meat. Cooking kills the bird flu virus strains in poultry. Prevention also includes poultry-safety measures such as destroying flocks when sick birds are identified and vaccinating healthy flocks. Combined with import bans, this culling has effectively limited the spread of bird flu (H5N1) in outbreak situations but naturally has negative effects on the poultry and egg industry. For example, Chinese authorities have ordered all chicken flocks suspected to have H7N9 infections to be destroyed and the areas where they were housed or sold sanitized; this method has recently been used in Australia in 2013.
  • Get informed about foreign travel: The CDC advises travelers to countries with known outbreaks of bird flu to avoid visiting poultry farms or have contact with live animals in food markets. In affected countries, avoid ice cream or other foods that may have been produced with raw eggs. Do not contact any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers (there are some researchers that suggest hand sanitizers may not work as well as hand washing). Talk with a doctor about bringing along an antiviral medication should you feel ill with flu. For current travel information and health advisories from the CDC, see their Travelers' Health page. The CDC has recently published what precautions to take to avoid H7N9 when traveling in China.
  • If there is an outbreak of bird flu in people, it is possible that antiviral medications might be recommended for healthy people in the area to try to prevent them from getting infected. The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stockpiled millions of doses of antiviral medications. If an outbreak occurs, the CDC or the WHO will make recommendations regarding management, including the need to use face masks/respirators or other personal protective measures. Epidemics or pandemics of bird flu in people would likely result in closure of schools or businesses in affected areas as public-health authorities try to limit the spread of the disease. Most communities and hospitals have plans in place to respond to pandemics.
  • There is no commercially available bird flu vaccine available in the U.S.

In summary, the majority of people infected with bird flu were exposed to infected chickens. Consequently, governments have ordered flocks destroyed and the area where they were housed, processed, and sold to be sanitized to prevent more infections. The WHO indicates that cooking any bird meat (chicken, turkey, duck) so that the meat throughout reaches 70 C will kill any H5N1 viruses.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/10/2014