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Avian Influenza ("Bird Flu") ... and Human Pandemics
Avian Influenza ("Bird Flu") received a great amount of media coverage, but there currently are no bird or human cases in the U.S.
Most reported human cases have resulted from direct contact with infected poultry. All evidence to date indicates that very close contact with dead or sick birds is the principal source of human infection. Most cases have occurred in households where small flocks of poultry are kept in very close contact with humans.
Especially risky behaviors include the slaughtering, defeathering, butchering and food preparation of infected birds. In a few cases, children playing in an area contaminated with bird feces is thought to be the source of infection.
Very few cases have been detected in presumed high-risk groups, such as commercial poultry workers, workers at live poultry markets, cullers, veterinarians, and health staff caring for patients without adequate protective equipment. And all of these cases have been outside of the U.S., to date.
Migrating birds carry avian influenza viruses, but usually do not get sick. However, this new strain of avian influenza is very contagious to other birds, and can sicken or kill domesticated birds including chickens, ducks and turkeys.
The eventual arrival of infected birds in the United States does not signal the start of the disease in humans. At present, H5N1 avian influenza remains largely a disease of birds.
The virus does not easily cross from birds to infect humans. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another is extremely rare, and unlike most strains of human influenza, transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.
However, since these new virus strains do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population. Therefore, if this particular H5N1 strain of avian influenza were to mutate and be able to spread easily from person to person, an epidemic or a pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could happen.
Pandemic influenza is very different from seasonal influenza. (Comparison Chart)
A human pandemic outbreak would be very serious, so there is an effort to promote global preparedness. That is why health departments and news media around the world are closely monitoring the situation.
issue gives agencies and individuals an opportunity to better prepare
for a pandemic, and revise their emergency
preparedness and communication plans.
You should still take the usual common sense prevention measures against seasonal influenza: get a flu shot; stay home if you are sick; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; wash your hands often; and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Also exercise, eat healthy food and get plenty of rest. Fact Sheet