2006-01-10-Bird flu symptoms often mildUnderstanding Avian Influenza
2006-01-10-Bird flu symptoms often mild
ILLNESS MORE WIDESPREAD THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT
By Lindsey TannerAssociated Press
As bird flu cases rise at a disturbing pace in Turkey, new research offers a bit of hope: It's likely that many people who get it don't become seriously ill and quickly recover.
Although not definitive, the new study suggests the virus is more widespread than thought. But it also probably doesn't kill half its victims, a fear based solely on flu cases that have been officially confirmed.
``The results suggest that the symptoms most often are relatively mild and that close contact is needed for transmission to humans,'' wrote Dr. Anna Thorson of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm and colleagues who conducted the study. It was published in Monday's edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.
In Turkey, authorities were urging Monday that children be kept away from dead birds as preliminary tests showed five more youths had been stricken with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Turkey has reported 15 suspected or confirmed cases, resulting in three deaths, and the newest ones were in four separate provinces -- indicating the disease was spreading.
Two teenagers from the same family in Dogubayazit died of bird flu last week, the first fatalities from H5N1 outside East Asia, where 74 people have been killed by the virulent strain since 2003.
Suspected bird flu cases are turning up in Turkish villages hundreds of miles apart, in every section of the country except the west. Officials said they are near wetlands on the paths of migratory birds, which have been carrying the disease from country to country.
The Swedish study involved 45,476 randomly selected residents of a rural region where bird flu is rampant among poultry -- Ha Tay province west of Hanoi.
The researchers said from 650 to 750 flu-like cases reported by residents could be attributed to direct contact with sick or dead birds. While most patients said their symptoms had kept them out of work or school, the illnesses were mostly mild, lasting about three days.
By contrast, most of the more than 140 cases linked to bird flu and reported to the World Health Organization since January 2004 have been severe -- killing more than half the patients.
The study authors noted that without any blood-test evidence to prove that the Vietnamese residents had bird flu, the results are only suggestive and far from conclusive.
Still, other flu experts called the study compelling.
``I would call this the smoking gun,'' said Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic flu specialist. ``All of us have been concerned and have guessed that the data we have so far has been the tip of the iceberg.''
The human cases counted so far likely have been the most severely ill patients treated at major hospitals, Poland said.