Infectious Diseases A-Z: Avian influenza (bird flu)
What is avian flu and how do you catch it
What is bird flu?
Avian influenza — colloquially known as bird flu — refers to the flu viruses that occur naturally in wild birds like ducks and geese. They are very contagious and can also infect poultry and other animals.
These viruses mutate constantly; they also can swap genes with one another. As a result, there are multiple different types with varying degrees of infectiousness, and some are also more dangerous than others.
H5N8 is a highly pathogenic strain, which means that it is often fatal for birds and it spreads much easier and more quickly than some other strains.
Can I catch it?
Transmission to humans is rare, but it can happen. People who catch it usually have had direct contact with infected animals or contaminated environments, such as handling dead, diseased birds before cooking. Human to human transmission of bird flu is even more rare, and there's no evidence that the virus can spread to people through properly and thoroughly cooked food.
If you are unlucky enough to get infected, however, symptoms can include a high fever, pneumonia, sore throat, muscle aches and sometimes even seizures. According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for bird flu in humans in 60%.
In most cases, bird flu develops into a serious disease that should be treated quickly in hospital, and it may require intensive care. Antiviral medicines are recommended to reduce the severity of the illness.
Currently, the threat to humans from H5N8 remains very low, however, according to Public Health England (PHE) — so there's no need to panic yet.
Video: Avian Flu (full documentary)
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