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Bird Flu (cont.)

What Specialists Treat Bird Flu?

Health specialists who may be consulted to treat bird flu in humans include infectious-disease specialists, critical-care specialists, pulmonologists, hospitalists, and others as needed. Experts at the CDC and/or WHO should be notified to perform specialized testing and aid in infection control.

What Exams Do Doctors Use to Diagnose Bird Flu?

There is no way to tell what type of influenza infection a person has without doing tests. In most cases, the presumptive diagnosis of flu is determined by the symptoms, especially when these occur during the peak flu season (late fall and winter in the U.S.). Sometimes, the doctor may need to perform special tests to be sure the seasonal influenza virus is responsible for the disease and not due to H5N1 or other novel influenza viruses.

Some doctors' offices may use a rapid test that can be done in the office with the result available in 30 minutes. Some rapid tests detect only influenza A virus, while others can detect both influenza A and influenza B virus types, and some may report unsubtypable influenza viruses or give a result presumptive for novel influenza viruses. These samples are recommended to be sent to the CDC for further examination. To identify whether a virus is present and to test for the type of influenza, a sample is taken from the back of the throat and/or nose. The doctor uses a cotton-tipped wooden stick and simply rubs the cotton tip at the back of the throat and/or inside the nose. Alternatively, samples may be obtained by rinsing saltwater (saline) solution through the nose and throat and transferring the fluid back into a specimen jar. The sample is sealed in a packet and sent to the lab for testing.

Also, some cases of flu may be missed by the rapid tests. There are no commercially available tests that specifically detect bird flu. However, Chinese researchers are attempting to develop a test to identify H7N9 viral infections.

Again, routine diagnostic tests available in the doctor's office currently cannot determine whether a case of the flu is due to bird flu. The patient's samples would be sent to a reference laboratory (usually through the state health department) for special testing if bird flu is suspected (perhaps because of a known exposure to infected birds). If a patient is in the hospital, the physician may recommend a bronchoscopy, which involves slipping a tube through the mouth or nose into the lungs to aspirate secretions. Most viruses can be identified fairly quickly by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), usually done at the CDC. The virus may also be cultivated in tissue culture and antibodies against it may also be detected in an infected person's serum, but these tests take time. The patient usually has either recovered or died by the time these viral culture tests are done.

Last Reviewed 11/21/2017

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Influenza viruses rank among the most common causes of respiratory tract infection worldwide, causing a mean of 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.

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