Bird Flu Alarm

Understanding Avian Influenza

Your bird flu concerns

Your bird flu concerns

Five new human cases of bird flu have been confirmed in several Turkish provinces, pushing the number of people infected up to 14, officials there say.
The cases, identified as being of the deadly H5N1 strain, mean the virus is now present in the east, north and centre of the country.

The BBC's health correspondent Fergus Walsh has answered some of your questions about the outbreak.

I hope to visit Turkey in March - but is it still safe to travel there?
Simon Howard, Sheffield
The normal holiday destinations in Turkey and business travel should not pose any significant risk. The advice from the UK Foreign Office is very clear. It says the risk of Britons catching bird flu in Turkey or any other country affected by bird flu is "believed to be very low. There is no reason not to travel to these countries".

But it says people should take sensible precautions - avoid live animal markets, poultry farms. Poultry should always be properly cooked as this destroys the virus.

Could bird flu spread to Britain?
Christopher Gallagher, Liverpool
The answer is yes, it could come to Britain. If it did it would probably be via the same route it has spread to Turkey and that is from migrating wildfowl especially ducks. We've already seen the disease in birds in Romania and Croatia.

If it came to Britain what we'd see would be areas being quarantined, thousands of birds culled, and free range poultry nationwide being moved indoors.

Watch the spread of bird flu

The threat to human health would be very low as unlike Turkey and south east Asia people don't live in such close proximity to poultry.

It would not automatically bring a human pandemic any closer if the disease came here. Until this virus finds a way of spreading in coughs and sneezes then we are dealing with sporadic, isolated cases, not a global health crisis.

I have members of my family who have asthma. Does this make them more susceptible to catching flu (normal or bird) and would this effect the severity of symptoms?
Oliver Crispin, London
People with serious asthma are advised to have a seasonal flu jab each year. Not because they are more likely to catch it, but because the virus is a respiratory illness and so could have more serious consequences for someone with asthma.

There is no vaccine for bird flu. A person contracting avian flu with asthma might also be at risk of suffering more severe symptoms.

Is this the first signs of the pandemic? After all there are cases appearing within hours and getting to humans easily?
Andi, Scunthorpe
We are not in a pandemic yet as there is no evidence of the disease passing from human to human. But the concern is that at some stage the virus will mutate and become transmissable.

How will someone know if they have bird flu or "normal" influneza? The only known drug Tamiflu must be taken within the first hour of symptoms developing to be effective - just how is anyone going to know if they have the disease and how are we to get the drug?
Peter Burns, Manchester
The only risk of getting of getting bird flu is to be in close contact with infected poultry - faeces or bodily fluids. So if you haven't been to a poultry farm or live animal market in Turkey or another infected country you should be safe.

Imports of chicken from infected countries is banned in the EU so there's no danger of people in the UK getting it from eating chicken. In any case proper cooking destroys the virus.

If bird flu did mutate and a pandemic broke out in the UK, how many people are expected to die?
Robert Hawtin, Ipswich
That's difficult to predict. The Department of Health has said around 50,000 people might die, although the numbers could be much lower or higher. Remember that around 10-12,000 people a year die from seasonal flu.

What treatments besides Tamiflu are being used?, why is this virus so deadly? are immunosuppressants of any use?
Martin Davies, Hemel Hempstead
Apart from Tamiflu there is another anti-viral drug called Relenza which is a nasal spray. Both are effective at limiting the severity of infection from bird flu.

The virus is deadly because we humans have no immunity to it. It is a novel virus so we haven't built up any protection. At present about 50% of people infected die from bird flu. The death toll stands at just under 80 worldwide.

Isn't the projected death from bird flu in the UK 50,000 people? Out of a population of 60 million that really isn't many. Isn't this all being blown out of proportion by the media who want a good story?
I hope not. I think most people would regard 50,000 deaths as being quite a lot. Those who died in a pandemic would probably be mostly children and young adults as H5N1 tends to target them.

There is no knowing of course if H5N1 will become the next pandemic strain of flu. And although it might kill no more than 50,000 people in the UK, a new pandemic could kill tens of millions of people worldwide.

We will have access to anti-viral drugs and modern intensive care facilities. Six months to a year following a pandemic a vaccine would be available. None of these would modern medical options would be there for the majority of the world's population.

So although fewer than 80 people worldwide have died, the disease has incredible potential. And we know from the 1918 pandemic which killed around 50 million people, that pandemics can take a terrible toll.

How long would it take to develop a new vaccine, should the virus mutate into a new strain?
Toby King, Swindon, UK
If a pandemic happens then it would take around six months to develop a vaccine. But there would not be enough vaccine to go round and it might be a couple of years before there were enough stocks to treat all those at risk in the UK.

By then perhaps millions of people would already have caught the virus in the first waves of infection. The vast majority would be expected to survive pandemic flu and then have their own natural immunity to the virus.

But it all depends on how severe a pandemic strain of flu turned out to be.