Chicken flu, also known as Avian flu or H5N1, is an illness caused by bird flu viruses. This virus is usually confined to birds but, occasionally, it will infect other organisms such as dogs, pigs and even humans.
How the Virus Spreads
People who come into contact with infected birds, or their droppings, are most at risk.
Symptoms of Avian Flu
The symptoms of this flu variety are the same as those for the typical flu: You may experience headache, muscle ache, cough and high fever.
In many instances of this virus in humans, a respiratory tract disease, such as pneumonia, will develop, along with difficulty in breathing. This is generally the cause of death for those who succumb to the bird flu.
The severity of the illness has been shown to be dependent upon the overall health of the patient prior to contracting the disease.
Diagnosis of this disease in humans entails gathering information--by a health practitioner--of a patient's current state of health and questions as to what events led up to the current illness.
A high fever (over 100.4 degrees F or higher) and respiratory problems are the main symptoms the doctor looks for when diagnosing a flu virus.
The doctor will also question the patient as to whether or not, in the preceding week, there has been travel to an area affected by avian flu, if he has been in close proximity to domestic or wild fowl (dead or alive), and whether there has been contact with someone ill.
If the health practitioner suspects avian flu, the patient will undergo a chest X-ray, blood tests and, perhaps, liver-function tests.
Current flu vaccinations will not protect against avian flu.
The treatment of this virus is much like that for the treatment of other strains of the virus: bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and medications for the management of fever and pain. For those that develop respiratory complications and infections, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Avian flu, fortunately, is not a common occurrence. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the number of confirmed human cases of avian influenza world-wide from 2003 to 2009 is only 442. Of those, 266 people have died.
Individuals can protect themselves by following common-sense measures, such as practicing good hygiene with regular hand-washing, avoiding others who are ill, and maintaining overall good health.
Avoid bird droppings and keep pets away from them. When travelling, avoid live-animal markets and farms, and products containing feathers.
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