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Differences between Flu and Bird Flu

Flu vs Bird Flu

In the olden days when diseases were thought to be the result of wrath of Gods and astrological influences, people named one of the commonest diseases then, the flu. It comes from Italian word “influenza” meaning “influence”. Over the years more names like grippe, sweating sickness, Spanish fever have been given to this disease which still holds power to send the world into a panic. Multiple flu pandemics have happened in the past, wiping out millions of people in a span of few days.

The flu is caused by the Influenza virus. It affects both mammals and birds. A few strains affect only humans. The bird flu or Avian flu (H5N1) is the Influenza virus adapted to the birds. It is the same Influenza virus, but a different subspecies that has adapted specifically to the birds. This virus was responsible for the bird flu epidemics that happened in Asia in 2003 and Europe in 2005. It is a highly lethal virus with a very high mortality.

Symptoms of flu in humans are fever, chills, cough, runny nose, bodyache, headache, fatigue, sore throat and a great sense of unease. It may also cause nausea, vomiting. The bird flu killed millions of birds in Asia, Africa and European continent by spreading like a wild fire through infected poultry. The virus has increasingly started spreading from birds to humans because of close contact with infected birds. In 2009, a Chinese woman died due to bird flu. 359 more humans have died from this deadly virus in 12 countries till August, 2012.

If left untreated or if treated, the flu inadequately it can lead to pneumonia (a serious lung infection) and even death. History is witness to millions of humans being victims to the influenza epidemics and pandemics when anti-viral medications were not available or not strong enough.

Diagnosis for flu is by a throat/nasal swab, chest x-ray and sputum sample examination under microscope.

Vaccination is now available against the flu virus. The virus has a tendency to mutate and newer strains are formed every few years, sometimes every year. Thus, the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with chronic lung diseases are advised to take a flu vaccine shot each year from the new batch of vaccines made using the new strains. Vaccines against the bird flu virus have also been developed for poultry. A few vaccines have been developed for humans, to prevent contracting the deadly bird flu, but none are available in the market as yet for civilians.
Treatment is done using antiviral like oseltamivir (Tamiflu). The bird flu cannot be treated in poultry. The infected bird has to be killed as it rapidly spreads and destroys 90% of the flock in just a few days. Killing every bird in the entire area is the only solution to contain spread of bird flu. This has resulted in severe economic losses.

Take home pointers:

Influenza or human flu or the flu is caused by the Influenza virus. The virus has multiple strains and mutates a bit every year making it very difficult to eradicate and contain. It produces symptoms like cough, fever, body ache, weakness, running nose and a sore throat. Treatment is necessary and antiviral like oseltamivir are used. Diagnosis is by throat/nasal/sputum sample examination. Vaccines are available.
Bird flu or avian flu is a subspecies of the Influenza virus which has specially adapted itself to the birds. It chiefly infects poultry and spreads like a rage destroying 90% flock in one go. Killing birds in the whole region is the only answer to prevent further spread. Vaccines against bird flu are available for birds.

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