Answers to Avian Flu Questions

Answers to Avian Flu Questions The avian flu is not in the United States yet, and officials predict it will not be this year.

Here's a question-and-answer session with an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Neil Fishman, with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Question: Right now, it is very difficult for the avian or bird flu to spread. It's difficult for birds to infect humans and difficult, if not impossible, for one human to infect another. What would have to happen for a pandemic, a world-wide epidemic of bird flu?

Answer: If the bird flu mixed with human influenza virus and their genes combined so it acquired the infectious ability of a human influenza virus. That way it could be passed human to human. It could be passed human to human much more effectively.

Question: Can the avian flu get to the United States right now?

Answer: There really isn't a way, an effective way, for the virus to come to the United States yet. One bird -- yes, but birds and animals are screened before they come into the United States. How about migratory birds? There has been some spread to wild birds in Asia, but the birds die.

Question: The regular flu shot will not protect you from avian flu, but a two-dose avian vaccine is in the works. What will be the biggest problem in making an avian flu vaccine?

Answer: Manufacturing enough vaccine and doing it in a timely fashion.

Question: If you get the bird flu, is there any treatment?

Answer: There are two drugs that are available that treat avian influenza. The two drugs are Tamiflu and Relenza. They're both antivirals and they're both active against influenza, including avian influenza. Those two drugs could also be used to prevent the bird flu, but everyone would have to take one every day of the flu season. Companies would really have to gear up to make enough of that.

Question: Officials worry the bird or avian flu will become a pandemic. What is a pandemic?

Answer: A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic.

Question: How could a pandemic happen?

Answer: The bird flu would have to mix with a human flu so it could become infectious. In other words, it could spread from human to human, which it cannot do now.

Question: Can you get the avian flu eating an infected chicken?

Answer: Eating isn't a problem because the acid in your stomach would kill the virus, really. Yeah, what you'd have to be worried about is getting the virus in your eyes and your nose or some way of getting it into the respiratory tract. (It would be the) same thing with eggs.

The regular flu shot will not protect you from avian flu. Scientists are working on a vaccine just for the bird flu, although making enough is a problem.

Question: If you get the avian flu, is there a treatment?

Answer: The two drugs are Tamiflu and Relenza. Both drugs are antivirals and they are both active against influenza, including avian influenza.

Question: Can we prevent the avian flu?

Answer: Yes, also with Tamiflu and Relenza. You would have to give them for the entire influenza season. People would have to take them every day for the whole season, yes. But that's what would be done in a pandemic. But we don't have enough of that, either, not yet.

Question: Are the companies working on that?

Answer: Yes.

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