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Avian influenza or "bird flu" is a potentially dangerous disease that causes a serious health threat to human beings who are either contacting or handling dead or live infected birds. Research shows that the infection in human causes severe sickness and even death in 60% of cases.

In birds, the disease has three types of viruses that primarily infect birds by attacking the avian cells. The first two may cause mild diseases while the third one is extremely contagious, rapidly fatal and can even cause a severe disease in humans. It is known as the H5N1 virus. All bird species are thought to be susceptible to infection especially domestic poultry flocks such as chicken, turkey and ducks. Symptoms of infection in birds range from mild drops in egg production to failure of major organs and death.

Since mid-2003, the H5N1 virus has caused the largest and most severe outbreaks in poultry on record. Even though bird flu is contagious and spreads easily among birds, it is uncommon for it to be transmitted to humans, but once transmitted from birds to human H5N1 might ultimately adapt into a strain that is contagious among humans, and it will no longer be a bird virus - it will be a human influenza virus.

Avian influenza can spread in five ways:

  • Within a country, the disease spreads easily from farm to farm. Large amounts of the virus are secreted in bird droppings, contaminating dust and soil. Airborne virus can spread the disease from bird to bird, causing infection when the virus is inhaled.
  • Contaminated equipments, vehicles, feed, cages or clothing - especially shoes - can carry the virus from farm to farm.
  • Domestic ducks are susceptible to lethal infections, as are turkeys, geese and several other species raised on commercial or backyard farms.
  • The disease can spread from country to country through international trade in live poultry.
  • Migratory birds can carry the virus for long distances.

Bird Flu in Human Beings

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because the virus is new, the human immune system has no pre-existing immunity so people may experience a more serious disease than that caused by normal influenza. The symptoms of bird flu in humans range from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to nausea, vomiting, eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases and other life-threatening complications.

Right now, there are two classes of drugs available for the prevention and treatment of human bird flu in many countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends antiviral medications that have an effect in treating influenza caused by H5N1 virus. While there is no effective vaccine guarding against it, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urgently working with others to develop a prototype virus to be used by vaccine manufacturers.

Prevention of Bird Flu

Efforts are also concentrated on controlling outbreaks of avian influenza. This starts with rapidly destroying infected or exposed birds and carcasses, then quarantining and disinfection of farms and restriction of the movement of live poultry, both within and between countries.

When cooking, hands should be washed before and after handling poultry and eggs, and surfaces used with the food should be cleaned with hot water and detergent. Food containing poultry should be boiled up to 70 degree Celsius.

When treating a patient with bird flu, masks and protective cloths should be worn, hands should be washed well before putting on your protective clothing, and all the personal items such as dishes and utensils should be washed with detergent and hot water and separated from other items.

Protection against Bird Flu in UAE

Research and investigation conducted by the government authorities assured that the UAE is completely free of bird flu. However, active control measures have been established to protect against bird flu where a full-proof monitoring system was established at border checkpoints to ensure that all bird shipments entering UAE are safe.

Multilingual pamphlets were distributed in schools, universities, private and government organizations, and exhibitions and conferences were conducted to increase public awareness of the health dangers.

The National Emergency Committee for the Control of Bird Flu was established to supervise and coordinate the work of all the relevant sectors, and monitor the situation at the national and international level.

The Ministry of Health developed the National Influenza Preparedness Plan based on WHO recommendations and protocols. The plan includes stockpiling antiviral medicines, training health professionals in case diagnosis and management, reinforcing the surveillance system, monitoring high risk groups, and undertaking all the necessary preventive measures.

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