Steps to Eradicating Bird Flu

Bird flu has created a significant scare in recent years and this is likely to increase over the coming decades. Also known as avian influenza, this viral disease is beginning to cross the species barrier to human beings, in a process known as zoonosis. Zoonotic diseases are becoming increasingly common as human beings and animals come increasingly into contact with each other. The fear is that even hundreds of millions of people could die in a global pandemic. So what is the disease and what can be done to eradicate it?

The underlying causative agent of bird flu is the H5N1 virus. This is a subtype of the Influenza A virus. The particular strain that is a danger to humans is called HPAI A(H5N1). It is highly lethal and highly virulent and is mutating all the time. The virus is transmitted at the moment by direct handling of an infected bird. Transmission is fortunately quite poor at the moment.

A mutation that supports human-to-human transmission will be the biggest problem, should it arise. There are a number of steps that can be taken to help eradicate the disease. Treatment of the disease has not been perfected but there are several possibilities. One of these is oseltamivir (branded as Tamiflu), which can stop the internal spread of the virus in the patient. A related drug called zanamivir (branded as Relenza) may also be of use. Vaccination programs are also possible for the virus. However, because it mutates so rapidly the vaccine would have to be continually updated and delivered to those at risk again.

There are a number of steps that could be taken in preparation for a pandemic. This includes things that government can do such as increased monitoring of the threat and greater cooperation and openness with other governments and organisations concerning the data that they have available about the disease. It can also involve funding mass vaccination programs in the areas that are most vulnerable. On a practical day-to-day level there are also a variety of things can be done. Unhygienic practices in handling birds should be ended. But people should also take care with their own hygiene as well, refraining from sneezing across a bus full of people, for example. Other sensible measures for those worried about catching it include limiting travel and choosing destinations and modes of transport carefully. Some people may even opt to go out with masks and gloves on.