Yesterday we started talking about the increasing occurrence of the avian influenza–bird flu–in Asian countries. There is a fear that if it gets out of hand we could see a flu pandemic. Thus far there have only been three previous flu pandemics in the 20th Century, which included the Spanish flu (1918-1919), the Asian flu (1957-1958), and the Hong Kong flu (1968-1969).
In an effort to get this recent resurgence of the avian flu under control, health experts are suggesting mass vaccination of poultry to curb further spreading between wildlife, as it appears the only time people are developing the illness is when they come into contact with an infected bird.
There have also been reports cautioning the spread of the virus as infected birds migrate to other continents. It is not known whether or not the virus can be passed from Asian to North American birds.2
If you happen to work on a farm and are in contact with poultry, you should be careful when handling the birds. It is recommended that you keep your shoes covered, in addition to your face and hands in order to avoid contact with the feces of an infected animal or inhalation of the virus. Avoid visiting poultry farms as well. If you are cooking with poultry, wash your hands and any surfaces the meat comes into contact with. Thoroughly cook all your food in order to kill the virus. As of right now, there is no evidence that this is a food-borne illness, which minimizes the risk of catching the flu from your food. In addition, there are few reported cases of infected birds in North America, and none since 2004. However, birds do migrate and we trade internationally, so it is best to always use caution when handling birds or raw poultry.3
Currently, there is faster spread of the virus between wildlife than between people, as there are no confirmed cases of transmission between humans. That said, in an effort to halt another pandemic, researchers are in the midst of creating a vaccine, but usually the vaccine must change as the virus changes. That being said, researchers might have found a vaccine that will work for a pandemic that has not yet happened.
The vaccine, however, is only a precautionary measure as of right now. It is there in case it is needed, but there is no reason to go and get vaccinated just yet. Researchers developed the precautionary vaccine out of a virus taken from an infected individual in Vietnam, which resembles the virus that has been seen in other infected people to date.4
The downfall? If the virus mutates, this vaccine might not work. Not to mention, people will need two doses for full protection, which means that more of the vaccine is needed.4 Currently, this is not an immediate concern for residents in North America. We will keep you updated, as more information becomes available about the Avian Influenza.