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Bird Flu: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention

Published By: Navneet Vyasan

Trending Desk

Last Updated: April 02, 2023, 17:33 IST

Mumbai, India

The virus infected a cat in France in late December. (File photo/Reuters)

The virus infected a cat in France in late December. (File photo/Reuters)

Understanding the symptoms, transmission, and prevention of bird flu is crucial in protecting both human and animal populations.

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a viral infection that primarily affects birds. However, some strains of the virus can also spread to humans, causing severe illness and even death in some cases. Bird flu viruses are constantly evolving and can quickly mutate, posing a serious threat to global public health. While bird flu outbreaks have occurred sporadically in the past, they have become a major concern in recent years due to the increased risk of the virus spreading globally. Understanding the symptoms, transmission, and prevention of bird flu is crucial in protecting both human and animal populations.

How Does It Spread

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that avian influenza A viruses are not typically known to infect humans, but there have been rare cases of human infection. The severity of illness in humans infected with bird flu virus can range from no symptoms or mild illness to severe disease leading to death. The H7N9 and H5N1 viruses have been responsible for most human illnesses from bird flu viruses worldwide, including the most serious illnesses and those with the highest mortality rates.

Infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, mucous, and feces. Human infections with bird flu viruses can occur when the virus enters a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth or is inhaled. Infections usually occur after unprotected contact with birds or surfaces contaminated with bird flu viruses. Although person-to-person cases are rare, monitoring for human infection is crucial due to the potential for the virus to change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, which would have significant public health implications.


According to NHS, bird flu can manifest quickly, with symptoms such as high temperature or chills, body aches, headache, coughing, or difficulty breathing. Early symptoms may also include stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, nose and gum bleeding, and conjunctivitis.


It is important to note that these symptoms typically appear within 3 to 5 days of infection, and if left untreated, can lead to severe complications such as pneumonia and respiratory distress syndrome. To prevent these complications and reduce the risk of severe illness, seeking medical attention promptly and utilising antiviral medication is essential.


In addition to antiviral treatment, personal protective measures are crucial for managing public health during outbreaks of avian influenza, stated World Health Organization. These measures include frequent hand washing and proper drying, practicing good respiratory hygiene such as covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of used tissues properly.

Individuals who are feeling unwell or have symptoms of influenza should self-isolate early to prevent the spread of the virus. It is also important to avoid close contact with sick people and refrain from touching one’s eyes, nose, or mouth.

Healthcare workers who perform aerosol-generating procedures should use airborne precautions and appropriate personal protective equipment during epidemics.

Travelers to affected regions should take precautions to avoid contact with poultry, live poultry markets, and areas where poultry may be slaughtered. It is crucial that good food safety and hygiene practices should be followed.

Pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis with antivirals may be recommended depending on individual factors and the type of exposure to the virus.

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first published:April 02, 2023, 17:33 IST
last updated:April 02, 2023, 17:33 IST