Laboratory tests have confirmed that bird flu was the cause of death of a middle-aged Indonesian male in November 2005. The man was the 14th fatality of bird flu infections in Indonesia, and the ninth bird flu case confirmed by the World Health Organization after the case was sent by local health officials to Hong Kong for verification.
The confirmation brings to 70 the number of people in Asia who have died in the last two years from the H5N1 strain, now considered the deadliest avian influenza virus subtype. Antiviral medications such as amantadine and rimantadine, which are usually given to treat influenza, do not work on the avian flu virus. Drugs are being developed and temporarily used on patients who appear to have succumbed to the avian flu disease. Although they appear to be responding to treatment and are showing improvements, further tests need to be done to ensure the effectivity of these new drugs.
With avian influenza, birds could transmit the disease to humans. Birds carry the bird flu virus in their intestines when they migrate for the winter. The virus, which does not affect the carriers, is deadly to those who come in contact with birds carrying the virus. When chickens, birds or geese come in contact with a bird carrying the virus through the bird’s saliva, nasal secretions or feces, they can become infected, fall ill and die in 48 hours.
Humans infected with the avian flu have symptoms that include a fever, sore throat or muscle pain, which are similar to symptoms of human influenza. Thus, it is easy to mistakenly diagnose an actual avian flu as human influenza. However, humans infected with avian flu would have worse symptoms – eye infections and respiratory problems that could become life threatening.
It’s important to note that humans will not usually get avian flu unless they have been in close contact with infected poultry. Since the number of people that has been infected with the disease is still low and confined to a few children and adults, there is no serious cause of alarm yet. However, scientists and the health community are concerned that the disease, which usually affects poultry livestock, may evolve into something that will adversely affect humans.
Before the bird flu, there was a disease that came from bovines, commonly known as mad cow disease. This disease came about from the practice of feeding cattle with processed foods. Later on, the cows developed an infection in the brain. The infection caused cows’ brains to produce sponges, which made the animals go wild and die. Humans who ate meat from infected cattle fell sick and died. To rid of the mad cow disease problem, entire livestock were slaughtered, killed and burned. This prevented the outbreak from reaching other farms. Slaughtering infected cattle was done in many countries in the Asian region, including parts of Eastern Europe and Russia.
The bubonic plague killed millions of people in the 14th century. Transmitted by rats, the disease originated from China and spread on to Europe through merchants who came back from the long voyage from China. The same disease was also transmitted by fleas, which proved fatal when it was passed on to humans. The disease dragged on for years, killing millions more. The bubonic plague happened centuries ago, when medical science was not yet developed to cope with the epidemic and save lives of millions.
However, with the advances in technology today, scientists will be able to study the avian flu disease further. By closely watching the migratory patterns of birds and understanding the disease, scientists may help prevent avian flu from becoming another global outbreak.