Bird Flu Information
While bird flu is caused by a viral infection rather than an allergy, we have had so many customers ask about bird flu prevention that we decided
to set up this bird flu information page. achoo! ALLERGY offers the N95 respirator masks and HEPA air purifiers that the Center for Disease
Control (CDC) recommends to healthcare workers for bird flu protection.
Avian Bird Flu
Avian Influenza is the proper scientific name for bird flu, which is a disease caused by a flu virus that occurs naturally among birds. Wild birds
around the world carry the virus, and most of them do not get sick from it, but the highly contagious virus can wreak havoc when transferred to
domesticated birds like chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Infected wild birds transfer the virus through their saliva and waste products. Domesticated
birds may become infected after direct contact with infected birds or indirect contact with contaminated materials like dirt, water, cages, or food.
Normally, bird flu is strictly for the birds—that is, it does not infect other animals; however, certain types of bird flu viruses can infect humans
during a bird flu outbreak. A human may become infected through direct contact with infected birds or through indirect contact with
contaminated surfaces. At this point, bird flu infection normally does not spread beyond one person. Nonetheless, since 2003, bird flu infections have
killed over 100 people. The bird flu outbreak that began in Asia in 2003 is the largest and most severe on record.
Bird Flu Symptoms
Bird flu symptoms in humans may include human flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches), eye infections, pneumonia, severe
respiratory diseases, and other life-threatening complications.
H5N1 Bird Flu Virus
The H5N1 virus is the type of bird flu virus that has caused the most disease and death among humans. The H5N1 bird flu virus is highly contagious,
highly pathogenic, and appears to have a unique capacity to cross the species barrier and cause deadly disease in humans. In the recent H5N1 bird flu
outbreaks in Asia and Europe, over half of all people infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus have died. Most cases have involved previously healthy
So far, bird flu infection normally does not spread beyond one person, but scientists are worried that the H5N1 virus may mutate and gain the
capability to easily spread from human to human. The bird flu virus may also exchange DNA with human influenza and create a whole new type of virus;
this is known as genetic re-assortment. If either of these scenarios occurs, we will find ourselves amidst a deadly bird flu pandemic. The human immune
system is not equipped to handle the bird flu virus.
Bird Flu Pandemic
A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of disease. Scientists around the world are watching the H5N1 virus and preparing for the possibility of a bird
flu pandemic. A bird flu pandemic could happen at any time.
In 1918, a major influenza pandemic spread around the world in less than 6 months, killing more than 40 million people and infecting one-quarter
of the U.S. citizens. Julie Gerderding, head of the U.S. CDC, has stated that we are probably in a historical period equivalent to the time right
before the 1918 influenza pandemic, when the virus was quietly mutating into a deadly strain.
Bird Flu Vaccine
Currently, there is no bird flu vaccine; however, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) are experimenting
with possible bird flu vaccines. Read this NIAID article for more
information about bird flu vaccine experiments. Note that seasonal flu shots do not provide protection against bird flu.
Bird Flu Treatment
The H5N1 virus is resistant to some standard antiviral medications. Other medicines used in treating human influenza viruses should work for
treating bird flu in humans, but more studies are needed to test their effectiveness. Plus, the bird flu virus can easily mutate and become
resistant to these drugs. Disease prevention is the key to avoiding unnecessary deaths from the bird flu virus.
Bird Flu Prevention
Travelers should avoid all contact with poultry—especially in Africa, Asia, and Europe—and all places where infection may be present
(farms, markets, etc.). Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry under any circumstances. Wash your hands frequently; this simple act is extremely
important in the prevention of disease.
According to the CDC, you cannot get the bird flu by eating properly cooked poultry and eggs. Most human cases of bird flu were caused by direct
contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. Proper handling and cooking methods will destroy the bird flu virus. To be safe, always wash
your hands with soap and hot water before and after handling eggs and poultry. Wash egg shells with soap and warm water before cracking. Be sure to
wash cutting boards, utensils, and countertops to prevent raw poultry from contaminating other foods. Cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165
degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.
There is currently a U.S. ban on the importation of birds and bird products from H5N1-infected countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The CDC
states that there is a risk involved in handling feather products from infected countries.
In addition to birds and humans, the bird flu virus has also infected pigs, tigers, leopards, ferrets, and domestic cats. Domestic cats can
become infected by eating raw infected birds; however, there is no evidence that cats can spread the H5N1 virus to humans.
If you believe you may have been exposed to the bird flu virus, pay close attention to your health for 10 days. If you develop any flu-like
symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, etc.), please limit your travels and call your healthcare provider before visiting the office
or hospital. You healthcare provider will need to know your symptoms, whether or not you've had any contact with poultry, and where you have traveled.
In dealing with suspected bird flu infection in an animal or person, the CDC recommends the following precautions for healthcare workers: standard
hand hygiene, gloves, eye protection, an airborne particle isolation room with a HEPA filter, and an N95 fitted respirator mask approved by the
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Bird Flu Masks - N95 Masks
As of yet, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in the United States, but the virus appears to be growing stronger, and if it reaches
the U.S., experts predict that masks will fly off the shelves, making it extremely difficult to find proper protection from bird flu infection.
Business Week recently reported that the United States is already experiencing a shortage of respirator masks. Gwilym McGrew, president and CEO of
AllHeart.com, a medical supply distributor based in Camarillo, CA, says, "I'm not sure this pandemic will ever come, but if it does, the world will
not have masks . . . When the first sparrow dies in the U.S. from bird flu, consumers are going to hoard these things like crazy."
Dr. Michael Osterholm of the CDC recently appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and recommended N95 respirator masks to reduce the risk of contracting
the bird flu. Dr. Osterholm also predicts that the U.S. would run out of masks during a pandemic, and he cautions that the bird flu virus can live on
a mask for two to three days, so it's imperative to properly dispose of masks after use.
N95 masks block out 95% of microscopic airborne particles. achoo! ALLERGY offers the 8210 mask
from 3M, which is a NIOSH-approved N95 mask. achoo! ALLERGY also offers the 3M 8233 mask and the
3M HEPA mask, which both go beyond CDC recommendations and block out 99.97% of microscopic particles.
Bird Flu News
Keep up with the latest bird flu news at these websites:
The World Health Organization
The Center for Disease Control
Google's Bird Flu News