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Patient education: Bird flu (avian influenza) (The Basics)

Patient education: Bird flu (avian influenza) (The Basics)

What is bird flu? — Bird flu (also known as "avian influenza") is a type of flu that normally happens in birds. In rare cases, it can spread from infected birds to humans. Even though bird flu is rare in humans, when it does happen, it is usually severe.

Many people who have gotten bird flu were around sick or dead birds before they got sick. Experts think that people who get bird flu usually get it from sick birds. But if the virus that causes bird flu changes or "mutates," it might become possible for bird flu to be passed from 1 person to another.

There are a few different types, or "strains," of bird flu. They include "H7N9" and "H5N1." Both of these strains started in birds in Asia, but have led to outbreaks in different parts of the world. New strains continue to emerge.

Since 2021, H5N1 virus infection has been found in animals in many parts of the world. A small number of humans have also gotten the infection from poultry or dairy cows.

What are the most common symptoms of bird flu? — They are different for reach strain of bird flu. So far, all strains tend to cause:

Fever (temperature higher than 100°F or 37.8°C)

Cough

Trouble breathing

Other symptoms might include:

Diarrhea

Headache or body aches

Feeling confused

Sore throat

Runny nose

Is bird flu dangerous? — Yes. Bird flu can be very dangerous. It can cause severe illness. People with bird flu are much more likely to have severe illness and to die than people with seasonal flu.

But experts think that some people can be exposed to bird flu and only get a little sick, or not get sick at all. So it's possible that more people actually get bird flu than we realize.

How can I protect myself from bird flu? — In general, you should:

Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use alcohol hand rubs.

Stay away from sick people and sick animals.

Stay away from chickens and other birds in countries where there are outbreaks of bird flu. This includes markets that sell live birds.

Pay attention to food safety. Avoid milk and other animal products that are raw or unpasteurized. Make sure that meat and eggs are cooked fully.

What should I do if I get symptoms of bird flu? — Call your doctor of nurse right away if you have flu symptoms and have been around sick or dead birds or traveled to a country that has had cases of bird flu. Do not leave your house unless your doctor or nurse tells you to go to a clinic or hospital. Many people with bird flu need to be in the hospital.

It is especially important to call your doctor or nurse if you:

Have trouble breathing or are short of breath

Feel pain or pressure in your chest or belly

Get suddenly dizzy

Feel confused

Have severe vomiting

While you are at home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can also take acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) to relieve fever and aches.

Do not give aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin to children younger than 18. In children, aspirin can cause a serious problem called Reye syndrome.

Take your child to the doctor if they:

Start breathing fast or having trouble breathing

Start to turn blue or purple

Are not drinking enough fluids

Will not wake up or don't react to you

Are so fussy that they do not want to be held

Get better from the flu but then get sick again with a fever or cough

Have a fever with a rash

If you go to a walk-in clinic or a hospital because you think that you have bird flu, tell someone right away why you are there. The staff will ask you to wear a mask or to wait somewhere where you are less likely to spread the infection.

Can bird flu be treated? — Yes, people with bird flu usually get medicines called "antiviral medicines." These medicines can help people avoid some of the problems caused by bird flu. Antibiotics do not work on the flu.

What if I am pregnant? — Any kind of flu can be very dangerous for pregnant people. If you are pregnant, get vaccinated against seasonal flu. You should also avoid taking care of anyone who has the flu.

If you are pregnant, call your doctor or nurse right away if:

You might have been near someone with the flu.

You think that you might be getting the flu. In pregnant people, symptoms of the flu can get worse very quickly. The flu can even cause trouble breathing or lead to death of the pregnant person or their baby. That is why it is so important to talk to doctor or nurse as soon as you notice any flu symptoms.

More on this topic

Patient education: Flu (The Basics)

Patient education: Influenza symptoms and treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Influenza prevention (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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