Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A: The Worst Bird Flu
Highly pathogenic Avian Influenza A, also known as the H5N1 virus, is the only real health scare since swine flu to make the officials of WHO (World Health Organization) really nervous.
This strain of avian influenza develops in birds, where its also proven to be highly contagious and deadly, particular in domesticated birds such as chicken, turkeys and ducks. And, unlike Swine flu, where the pigs did not directly transmit the disease, humans have indeed caught it, with five fatalities in 2011 alone. This also makes it the number one flu strain with easily identifiable deaths,and the one most in need of an avian influenza vaccine.
A highly pathogenic disease is virulent; its virus strain is so toxic that it can cause symptoms within a few hours, possibly death (certainly of the birds who catch it) in 48 hours, and a fatality in a human over the course of a week. Its a distinct possibility as well that the cases that have been reported are only a fraction of the true number, since numerous individuals, perhaps thousands, have caught (and transmitted) mildly pathogenic versions of the virus. The WHO website is the best place to visit for current information about cumulative numbers of Avian flu cases.
Nearly sixty percent of the reported individuals infected with the more virulent strain of the disease have died, as gathered from reports from Asia (where it is most widespread) as well as Africa and isolated parts of Europe; most of these infections have been reported in children who were previously healthy, but who have encountered infected birds that were in their last stages of succumbing. Children in rural settings were particularly affected, on or near some sort of poultry farm.
There is still not too much reason to worry; one can at least maintain a guarded enthusiasm. Pathogenic bird flu remains rare in humans, and is not easily transferred from one person to another. And the actual outbreaks of Avian influenza in Asia and Africa have been non - sustained and limited.
As an example, Thailand (2004) had a single report of a child and its mother being infected; the next real proven and viable report did not appear until 2006 (eight people in a single Indonesian family). No further outbreaks were reported or detected in the two year period that followed.
However, there is still some alarm that the avian virus may have the ability to mutate, in the same viral paradigm that has applied to most strains of influenza; medical officials remain concerned that an outbreak may be at hand in the near future. The other fearful possibility is that the disease has no common provenance among humans, meaning that there is no prolonged exposure in the population at large. Humans have therefore had no opportunity, with no wide spreading of the disease, to acquire any sort of immunity or protection against it as we have with other influenza strains. This is why the fear of a possible pandemic is so pronounced in medical circles.
Health experts continue their global monitoring for potential mutations in the HPAI H5N1 virus, and to prepare for the possibility and need for the development of a new vaccine to meet the challenge of the disease. So far, Avian Influenza has proved resistant to tried and true medications such as amantadine and rimatadine, which are two medications specific to antiviral reaction, and are among the few compounds licensed for distribution by the Food and Drug Administration. Other medications, such as oseltamivir, have been tried and proven somewhat successful, but its a still a waiting game to see if the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza Awill become a worldwide pandemic and health threat.