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Bird Flu - Transmission, infection and Treatment of the H5N1 Virus
H5N1 infections in humans are generally caused by bird to human transmission of the virus. A few isolated cases of suspected human to human transmission exist, but there is no proof either way in those cases.
Transmission by wild birds (waterfowl)According to the United Nations FAO:
PreventionThe current method of prevention in animal populations is to destroy infected animals, as well as animals suspected of being infected. In southeast Asia, millions of domestic birds have been slaughtered to prevent the spread of the virus. The probability of a "humanized" form of H5N1 emerging through genetic recombination in the body of a human co-infected with H5N1 and another influenza virus type (a process called reassortment) could be reduced by influenza vaccination of those at risk for infection by H5N1. It is not clear at this point whether vaccine production and immunization could be stepped up sufficiently to meet this demand.
If an outbreak of pandemic flu does occur, its spread might be slowed by increasing hygiene in aircraft, and by examining airline cabin air filters for presence of H5N1 virus. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises travelers to areas of Asia where outbreaks of H5N1 have occurred to avoid poultry farms and animals in live food markets. Travelers should also avoid surfaces that appear to be contaminated by feces from any kind of animal, especially poultry.
There are several H5N1 vaccines for several of the avian H5N1 varieties. H5N1 continually mutates rendering them, so far for humans, of little use. While there can be some cross-protection against related flu strains, the best protection would be from a vaccine specifically produced for any future pandemic flu virus strain. Dr. Daniel Lucey, co-director of the Biohazardous Threats and Emerging Diseases graduate program at Georgetown University has made this point, "There is no H5N1 pandemic so there can be no pandemic vaccine." However, "pre-pandemic vaccines" have been created; are being refined and tested; and do have some promise both in furthering research and preparedness for the next pandemic . Vaccine manufacturing companies are being encouraged to increase capacity so that if a pandemic vaccine is needed, facilities will be available for rapid production of large amounts of a vaccine specific to a new pandemic strain.
Environmental survivalHeat kills H5N1:
IncubationThe incubation period of avian influenza A (H5N1) is 2 to 17 days. Once infected, the virus can spread by cell-to-cell contact, bypassing receptors. So even if a strain is very hard to initially catch, once infected, it spreads rapidly within a body.
SymptomsSince H5N1 is an influenza virus, symptoms similar to those of the common flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and sore muscles, can develop in infected humans. However, in more severe cases, pneumonia and respiratory failure can develop and eventually cause death. Patients with H5N1 avian influenza have rarely had conjunctivitis, unlike human cases of infection by the H7 virus. Severe infection from H5N1 caused multiple lung infections (including pus, fever, cough), lung scar tissue, fluid in the space surrounding the lungs, enlarged lymph nodes and cavities forming in the lung tissue.
There have been studies of the levels of cytokines in humans infected
by the H5N1 flu virus. Of particular concern is elevated levels of tumor
necrosis factor alpha (TNFÎ±), a protein that is associated
with tissue destruction at sites of infection and increased production
of other cytokines. Flu virus-induced increases in the level of cytokines
is also associated with flu symptoms including fever, chills, vomiting
and headache. Tissue damage associated with pathogenic flu virus infection
can ultimately result in death. The inflammatory cascade triggered by H5N1
has been called a 'cytokine storm' by some, because of what seems to be
a positive feedback process of damage to the body resulting from immune
system stimulation. H5N1 type flu virus induces higher levels of cytokines
than the more common flu virus types such as H1N1.
TreatmentNeuraminidase inhibitors are a class of drugs that includes zanamivir and oseltamivir, the latter being licensed for prophylaxis treatment in the United Kingdom. Oseltamivir inhibits the influenza virus from spreading inside the user's body. It is marketed by Roche as Tamiflu. This drug has become a focus for some governments and organizations trying to be seen as making preparations for a possible H5N1 pandemic. In August 2005, Roche agreed to donate three million courses of Tamiflu to the World Health Organization, to be deployed by the WHO to contain a pandemic in its region of origin. Although Tamiflu is patented, international law gives governments wide freedom to issue compulsory licenses for life-saving drugs.
A second class of drugs, which include amantadine and rimantadine, target the M2 protein, but are ineffective against H5N1. Unlike zanamivir and oseltamivir, these drugs are inexpensive and widely available and the WHO had initially planned to use them in efforts to combat an H5N1 pandemic. However, the potential of these drugs was considerably lessened when it was discovered that farmers in China have been administering amantadine to poultry with government encouragement and support since the early 1990s, against international livestock regulations; the result has been that the strain of the virus now circulating in South East Asia is largely resistant to these medications and hence significantly more dangerous to humans.
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