Humanity has, in the long past, lived isolated from one another. The people of one region of the world did not contact those of another. However, when humanity began exploring the planet to discover new lands, they took with them the viruses that within themselves were harmless.
So, when a ship would land in a foreign land and the people onboard forged relationships with the people they encountered there, those indigenous peoples contracted the viruses from the explorers and died from what were harmless viruses to those who had come to the new land whose bodies had become immune.
The Spread of Viruses Around the Globe
The world is getting smaller thanks to modern transportation.
Humans of all over the globe are buying, trading and communicating much more accessible than ever before in history. However, globalization comes with a price, the spread of diseases such as zoonotic influenzas.
In 2018, a new threat of both swine and bird flu is rising, and in this article, we will look at both viruses and how they are impacting the lives of people and the financial costs associated with them.
The World Health Organization (WHO), has a page that describes a type of influenza that at first sounds like a science fiction fantasy, bird flu Although animal influenza viruses (zoonotic influenza viruses) usually will not cross from one species to another, occasionally the viruses capable of forming mutated strains and infect humans.
Swine influenza is also a virus that has wreaked havoc on the lives of many people, especially on the continent of Asia. Again, most swine flu viruses do not affect humans. However, when humans are in proximity with hogs such as living when being exhibited or living close to human dwellings, transference of the virus to humans can and does occur.
The Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
Avian flu is a virus that naturally occurs in wild waterfowl. When it remains in these animals, it does not directly affect humans. However, when domestic birds become infected the chances of human infection significantly increase.
Birds that can become infected include chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese.
Like seasonal influenza in humans, avian flu is spread from contact with an infected animal’s feces or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes. One little-known fact is that avian flu can also spread by contact with a sick bird’s feathers. When domesticated birds are sold in open-air markets in crowded and unclean conditions, the infection can spread.
Risk Factors of Humans Contracting Avian Influenza
The primary way humans get infected with the bird flu virus is by being in close contact with infected birds. However, there are a few other ways to catch avian influenza.
Humans can contract bird flu by contact with surfaces contaminated with saliva, mucous or droppings from sick birds. Sometimes, the virus has spread from person to person, but such incidences are rare.
One can contract avian flu from eating undercooked poultry or eggs, but such incidences are rare.
The avian flu virus has not yet managed to mutate into a form that is quickly spread from person to person, but the world is observing. For now, the greatest danger is from infected birds.
Symptoms and Complications from Avian Influenza
Bird flu, like any other type of influenza, can cause severe complications and death. Some people are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms such as pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, very young children and the elderly.
The symptoms of bird flu can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. They include:
- A cough
- A sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Red eyes
- Difficulty breathing
The incubation time from contact with an infected fowl to symptom onset is usually from between three to five days although sometimes it can be up to seven days.
While death from avian flu is a rarely reported today, on January 9, 2017, the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China reported to the World Health Organization that there had been 35 deaths from bird flu from late November through December. So, we know that avian influenza can and does kill.
In severe cases of bird flu, the symptoms listed above are joined by diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, chest pain and bleeding from the nose and gums. Within days of the onset of these symptoms, potentially deadly complications can happen including pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, and organ failure.
It is clear, avian flu is not science fiction, nor is it something to ignore. It is a disease that can cost more than just money; it can cost lives.
The Treatment for Avian Flu
If a person is suspected to be infected with bird flu, they will be advised to remain at home or enter the hospital from treatment. Although human to human transmission is rare, it is still vital that infected people be isolated as a precaution to keep the virus from spreading.
The recommended treatments include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Eating healthy foods
- Taking over-the-counter medications for fever and pain
- Antiviral medications (explained further later)
The Prevention of Infection from Bird Flu
To prevent transmission of the bird flu virus, here are some tips.
Wash your hands regularly especially before and after handling food
Turn away from others when you cough and cover your mouth
Dispose of tissues immediately after using them
Avoid public places if you are ill, or the bird flu is in your area
Remain alert to the symptoms of bird flu and see your doctor immediately if you suspect you have it
Cook eggs or poultry to a safe internal temperature of 165 F (74 C)
Make sure egg yolks and whites are cooked until they are firm
Swine flu is a respiratory infection experienced by swine caused by the type A influenza virus. Like flu viruses that strike humans, swine flu outbreaks occur most during the late fall and winter months. However, they can circulate among hogs throughout the year. These breakouts can cause increased levels of illness in a hog herd; the viruses rarely result in death.
The H1N1 virus is the most well-known swine influenza among the populous of the globe. However, there are three different strains, H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2. While these viruses normally would not infect humans, they are genetically different from the flu viruses found in people. When these viruses mutate into a form that humans can catch, people have little or no immunity against them, and human flu vaccines are no protection against them.
While swine influenza viruses are generally not a danger to humans, in the year 2009-2010 the first flu pandemic in forty years began with a little girl in California being identified as having contracted the virus.
Before it had ended, the H1N1 virus that is a combination of both swine and avian flu had infected nearly 61 million people in the United States alone and killed 12.469 people. Globally, 575,400 people died in the pandemic.
Gratefully, a vaccine became available to prevent infection from the H1N1 virus. There are two types of vaccine produced, including shots and nasal sprays and are widely available.
The Risk Factors for Swine Influenza in Humans
Unlike bird flu, you cannot catch swine flu by eating contaminated pork.
People are at the highest risk by traveling to areas where there are lots of known cases of hot influenza found in other humans. Exposure is highest in large crowds. Hog farmers and veterinarians are at the highest risk for contracting swine flu.
Other populations who are a high risk of becoming ill from swine flu are hog farmers and animal caretakers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people who are in regular contact with hogs receive the H1N1 influenza vaccine every year.
It also recommends that humans in constant contact with hogs receive their seasonal influenza vaccine annually as well to prevent their animals from contracting the virus from them thus lowering the likelihood of gene mutations in the virus. It is the combination and mutation of influenza viruses that cause death in humans.
There are some simple measures farmers and animal caretakers can do to avoid contracting swine flu. These include thorough and frequent hand washing and avoiding close tact with sick animals and not contacting hogs if you have flu-like symptoms.
If contact with sick animals, or if a farmer or caretaker feels ill, they are encouraged to take appropriate measures. These include wearing protective clothing and disposable gloves plus a mask to cover the nose and mouth.
Symptoms and Complications of Swine Influenza
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
- A cough
- A sore throat
- A headache
- A runny nose
- Irritated eyes
Complications include worsening of chronic conditions such as heart disease and asthma, pneumonia, seizures, and respiratory failure. Those at the highest risk are the elderly.
The Use of Antiviral Medications
There are medications available that have been developed to reduce the severity of influenza viruses of all types, including bird and swine flu. These medications work by stopping the virus from replicating in the human body.
If these drugs are successful in limiting the severity of bird and swine influenza, the chance of survival increase, Tamiflu and Relenza are the two antiviral medications thus far developed for this purpose.
In cases of seasonal influenza, antiviral drugs are most effective if given within forty-eight hours after the development of symptom onset. However, it is not yet known is the same timeline works for swine and bird flu.
Sometimes antiviral medications have been used as a preventative measure to people who have been exposed to bird or swine flu such as other members of the infected person’s household and healthcare workers.
The Economic Worldwide Costs of Zoonotic Influenzas
The 2009-2010 pandemic of swine flu hit at one of the worst possible points in world history. The globe was in the grips of a deep world recession, and the monetary costs to countries and families around the world were staggering.
The World Bank estimated that during that year, the 4.8% of the world gross domestic product (GDP), around $3 trillion was spent on the different aspects of saving humanity from the H1N1 virus.
The costs included the culling of thousands of farmer’s entire hog herds, plus the costs involved in buying the appropriate flu vaccine and its distribution. Also included in these costs were a loss of production and hospital care for those who were too ill to be treated at home. Also, the cost of training of medical and other personnel must be included.
However, nothing can match the horrendous human cost of so many lives being shattered by death and illness from zoonotic influenzas.
Wrapping it All Up
People need not die from contracting a flu virus. In fact, death from the flu virus is highly preventable.
If you receive notification that bird or swine flu is in your area of the globe, make sure to take precautions to protect yourself and your family. Following a few simple tips can prevent an ordinarily benign virus from becoming a tragedy that changes your life and that of your family forever.
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