Bird Flu Alarm

2005-12-06-Practicing good hygiene can reduce risk of flu infection

Understanding Avian Influenza

2005-12-06-Practicing good hygiene can reduce risk of flu infection

There is cause for some chills this year. One of the peak seasons for the common flu is here. The other peak season is from May to July.

However, this year, in addition to that, the spread of a lethal strain of bird flu in the past two years have also sparked fears of a new pandemic.

Although more than 100 people worldwide have contracted the H5N1 virus, experts point out that human-to-human transmission is still relatively rare. Moreover, in cases where humans were infected, the victims were usually in close contact with infected fowl.

But as the virus spreads from its original hotspot in South-east Asia, there is concern that it may combine with a human strain to produce a mutation that could be far more difficult and dangerous to combat.

As these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immunity against them in the human population.

But if the avian influenza virus gains the ability to transmit efficiently from human-to-human, it could cause an influenza pandemic.

Currently, only one instance of probable human-to-human transmission was recorded in October last year in Thailand.

Besides that, there is also concern as research has indicated that the virus which caused the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic that killed between 40 to 50 million people worldwide, was probably a strain that originated from birds.

That pandemic is considered one of the deadliest disease events in human history. US scientists shared this discovery with Nature, reported the BBC.

Reported symptoms of the bird flu virus in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches to eye infections, pneumonia and shortness of breath.

Moreover, says the Ministry of Health (MOH), the influenza vaccination is not ffective in preventing bird flu.

While the influenza vaccination is recommended, especially if you are travelling to cooler climates in the northern hemispheres (such as Europe and North America during winter), the vaccination is more for you to boost your immunity against various other strains of influenza virus, but not the bird flu.

Another cause for concern is the consumption of poultry since most human cases involve close contact with poultry flocks.

According to WHO, it is still safe to consume such produce although precaution needs to be taken, such as practising good hygiene and proper cooking. In areas experiencing the outbreak, once again, the same applies.

The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat, so normal temperatures used for cooking will kill the virus. All parts of the poultry should be fully cooked (there should be no "pink" parts).

Eggs ought be thoroughly cooked as well (there should be not be any "runny" yolks).

Furthermore, in Singapore, the MOH says that the Agrifood and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has high standards for the import of poultry into the country, and as such, does not permit imports of poultry from countries with cases of bird flu.

MOH says there are no known cases of bird flu here. However, once again, proper hygiene practices such as washing your hand after handling birds and poultry still apply.

Understanding Avian Influenza