Since 2003 Bird flu (avian flu) has spread from VietNam all the way across the globe to Nigeria (west Africa) and Italy (well into the European Union). Over 150 million birds have died. The number of human deaths is also going up, about 90 people have so far died as a result of bird flu infection.

Bird flu has been detected in the following countries since 2003 (alphabetical order):

— Bulgaria
— Cambodia
— China
— Croatia
— Cyprus
— Greece
— Indonesia
— Iraq
— Italy
— Japan
— Kazakhstan
— Kuwait
— Laos
— Malaysia
— Mongolia
— Nigeria
— Romania
— Russia
— South Korea
— Thailand
— Turkey
— UK (Pet parrot kept in quarantine at airport)
— Ukraine
— VietNam
(Whether or not it is prevalent in North Korea is hard to say as the government there has complete control over all information)

About half of all humans who have been infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus strain, the most lethal one, have died. Most of these deaths have taken place in south east Asia. It is likely to have a much lower death rate in developed countries, where health care services are better and swifter. Some antiviral drugs (e.g. Tamiflu), if administered to the patient within three days of symptoms appearing, is very effective in achieving a complete recovery. It is crucial that infected patients are treated swiftly.

Since the new year, there have been some human deaths in Turkey, raising concerns that perhaps the virus is starting to transmit among humans more easily. Authorities there, after extensive investigation, found that all deaths were among patients who had had constant contact with infected birds (meaning they got it from birds, not other humans).

The more humans the virus infects, the greater the chances are that it will mutate and become a human transmissible one (infect from human-to-human). If the H5N1 virus strain infects a human who has the normal flu it then has the opportunity to exchange genetic information with the human flu virus. It could pick up, from the human flu virus, the ability to spread among humans. Hopefully, when it does exchange genetic information, it may lose some of its present virulence (potency) – something experts think it very likely.

Countries with human cases of bird flu virus

Cases 4 Deaths 4

Cases 10 Deaths 7

Cases 25 Deaths 18

Cases 1 Deaths 1

Cases 22 Deaths 14

Cases 21 Deaths 4

Cases 93 Deaths 42

Cases 176 Deaths 90
(World Health Organisation)

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today