Bird Flu, or avian influenza, is a virus that affects birds and can be spread quickly from one bird to another. People in proximity to birds, such as those who work on chicken farms, may be infected, as well as those who come in contact with bird droppings through contaminated water or aerosolized materials in live bird markets. Currently, a deadly strain of the virus—H5N1—is infecting birds and people in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It is deadly to most birds that catch the virus and has killed nearly 60 percent of the people who have been infected with it.
The incubation period for avian influenza is typically 3-5 days. That means that people infected will usually develop symptoms within five days. Bleeding from the nose and gums were reported as early symptoms of bird flu. Experts say the symptoms come on suddenly, and within days, fatal complications may develop.
A blocked or a runny nose is a very general symptom that presents in the first stage of infection and poses no threat to a person's life. People infected with the common cold also experience a blocked or a runny nose. When symptoms start to progress and become more serious, tests will be done to determine the cause.
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is one symptom a person may experience when infected with avian influenza. With conjunctivitis, there is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines the eye and eyelid. This happens when bacteria or a virus gets into a person's eye. The eye, or eyes, will become itchy and red and will excrete a discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially when the person is sleeping.
When a person is infected with bird flu, symptoms will often present similarly to the typical influenza virus. There may phlegm buildup, which can result in a cough. Often, the cough one experiences due to bird flu is a dry cough. A person cannot catch the virus by consuming fully cooked chicken or eggs. When a person is exposed to live birds that are infected with the virus, they may inhale aerosolized materials which infect their respiratory system, causing a cough.
This symptom of bird flu is not a common symptom of typical influenza. In a study on Thai patients infected with avian flu, 40 percent presented with symptoms of diarrhea. It was proposed that diarrhea is an important presentation of bird flu and may imply a poor prognosis.
Since symptoms can present as mild to severe, a person infected with the virus may develop a low-grade fever or very high fever. High fever, 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38 degrees Celsius, is often accompanied by cold sweats and chills. This is another symptom that is typical of non-avian influenza.
A headache is usually nothing to be concerned about. However, when it is accompanied by other symptoms of avian flu, it can indicate a bigger problem. Some cases of bird flu have even resulted in neurologic changes, such as altered mental status or seizures.
This symptom is also very common among people who are infected with the "typical" flu and usually presents alongside fever and headache. A person may feel weak or achy and may not be able to perform daily tasks like getting dressed.
A cough is not the only respiratory symptom that this deadly disease can cause. People infected with bird flu may develop severe respiratory difficulties including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), viral pneumonia and eventually respiratory failure. Patients who develop pneumonia usually present with breathing difficulties about five days after the first symptoms appear. A strong correlation was found between the development of ARDS and fatality following infection with this virus.
A sore throat is another symptom of "typical" influenza that will be experienced in the early stages of bird flu. A sore throat itself presents no threat to a person's life. When a person starts to develop respiratory symptoms, the virus can become dangerous. Avian influenza can only be diagnosed through laboratory testing. A swab is taken from the upper respiratory tract (nose or throat).
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