1. What is avian (bird) flu?
Avian or bird flu is an infection caused by an influenza virus that occurs naturally in wild birds. The flu strain that worries health officials, H5N1, is spread easily among birds and can sicken and kill wild and domesticated birds such as chickens, ducks, turkeys and migratory birds. Less commonly, the virus can infect pigs and tigers.
The virus does not usually spread to humans but some have become infected after coming into contact with sick birds or surfaces contaminated with the feces and/or secretions of sick birds.
2. What is the H5N1 virus?
H5N1 is one particular strain of the bird flu that is highly contagious among birds. It is a type A influenza virus that is usually only found in birds but can cause death in humans.
3. Where did bird flu originate?
The first recorded case of H5N1 bird flu in humans occurred in Hong Kong in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The current outbreak of the H5N1 virus in birds began in South Asia in mid 2003 and is considered the most severe on record, according to the World Health Organization. Eight nations (South Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and China) reported outbreaks through February 2004. The virus has since been reported in Malaysia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania and Croatia, as of October 2005. Investigations continue in other nations.
4. Can humans catch bird flu?
The current bird flu virus, H5N1, can spread from birds to humans. This particular strain of the bird flu virus causes serious problems and even death in humans. Those infected suffer from viral pneumonia and organ failure. More than half of those infected have died.
The main route of infection to humans is through direct contact with infected birds or surfaces. Most of the current cases of human infection were found in rural or semi-rural areas among people who keep flocks of domesticated foul. Most were exposed to the virus during the slaughter, defeathering, butchering or preparing of infected birds for cooking. There is no evidence that properly cooked birds or eggs can spread infection, according to the World Health Organization.
5. How does bird flu spread?
Bird flu is currently spread among birds via saliva, nasal excretions and feces and contaminated surfaces. People who have contracted the H5N1 virus from birds have come into contact with contaminated birds or surfaces.