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Bird Flu (cont.)

What Is the Prognosis for Bird Flu?

The prognosis (outcomes) for bird flu continues to be poor with the death rate reaching about 60% with the N7H9 strain of bird flu, there is reason to believe it, too, could have a high death rate in future outbreaks.

Prevention (see above) is the key to a good outcome. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the CDC have banned the import of certain birds from many Asian countries affected by the H5N1 virus strain because of the potential that infected birds could infect humans. This ban includes both live and dead birds and their eggs. This ban is likely to be modified to include H7N9.

Although it is possible that highly pathogenic bird flu may mutate and spread widely to people, it is encouraging that this has not happened in the 16 years since the first human case was identified. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to monitor public health reports for clusters of people with symptoms that might suggest a flu virus is moving from human to human (and not just from birds to humans).

Bird Flu Research Controversy

Most articles do not have this section but it is included to give the reader some insight into the problems and dangers of biologic research that may affect their lives. In 2011, at least two major research laboratories (in the U.S. and the Netherlands), while trying to predict what genetic changes needed to occur in avian flu to make the virus easily transmissible to humans, developed a highly lethal avian influenza virus strain that was easily transmissible to ferrets. Unfortunately, for humans, this lab strain could be transmissible to humans by "mistake" since spontaneous transfer of the swine flu (H1N1) has been documented to occur between humans and ferrets in nature (pet ferrets caught H1N1 from humans).

Although this lab strain gives researchers a fine model to study viral genetics and viral transmission, many health researchers, clinicians, biowarfare experts, and many others consider such work to be highly dangerous because of the potential, however slight, for the virus to escape the lab by "mistake," or even worse, that terrorists could use the published data to create a biological weapon. Consequently, publication of the data about this potentially lethal strain was delayed until there was some agreement in the worldwide scientific community about how to proceed. This delay was not only for publication but extended to further research work on the viral genome.

The work on person-to-person transmission genetics was and still is another major area of concern. An expert panel composed of WHO consultants decided in 2012 that the controversial information should be reported so now many of the details of the research are widely available. How the research will progress remains unclear. What can be done with H1N1 viruses is possible to do with avian influenza viruses, and such laboratory-produced modifications of H5N1 or H7N9 bird flu could have devastating human consequences in the future if they escape from the labs if no vaccine or effective antiviral drugs become readily available.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/19/2016

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