Literacy and Educational Materials
Avian Flu, Bird Flu, H5N1, Avian Influenza
Fact Sheet for Community Field Workers
by Dianne Mathews, MD and Lisa Firth, MB, SIL International 2005
Avian Influenza is a viral disease that affects birds, but can infect humans and some other animals. It spreads quickly among flocks of poultry; three million fowl died in a 3-day epidemic in Hong Kong. Humans can only get the current strains of the disease from birds or animals, but it causes a serious illness and about half the people who get it die. It could cause a pandemic (worldwide or multi-continent epidemic) if the virus mutates and becomes able to spread from human to human. It would be a new disease that most people have never had before and there is no human vaccine yet, so millions of people could die worldwide. Because of this, it is very important to control the disease in poultry.
If your community has poultry and is threatened, the best protection is strict isolation of clean flocks from objects, people, vehicles or animals that could be contaminated. The virus spreads through secretions, feces, airborne droplets and contaminated objects. Wild birds that carry the disease may not look sick. Poultry should be kept in covered pens and be fed and watered there, instead of being allowed free range. Good hygiene among caretakers is essential. Vaccination of birds may help, but might also cause a new mutation from the live virus vaccine, so follow your Department of Agriculture guidelines.
If the epidemic in poultry spreads to your area, nearly all poultry will die or be culled to prevent the spread. A 3 Km cull zone is maintained around an infected area. People who have contact with sick or dead birds should wear protective clothing, masks, gloves and overshoes to prevent spreading it from an infected flock to a clean flock. All containers, feed, protective gear, cages etc. must be burned or decontaminated thoroughly with bleach to avoid spreading the virus. Dead birds must be buried at least 1.5 meters deep. Wait at least a month after disinfecting before restocking.
Prevent Avian Influenza poultry from entering your area. Warn local residents to avoid bringing items or animals home from a live animal market. Encourage personal hygiene in flock management.
All people in contact with dead or sick poultry should be monitored daily for fever and signs of flu-like illness. Cough, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, and the aches and pains of a cold or the flu are typical. If someone gets sick and their fever goes above 38° C (102° F), isolate them and other exposed people immediately. Take them to a designated health post, rather than treating them yourself. Health posts will be established in cities near you if Avian Influenza comes your way; find out where these posts are ahead of time if possible.
If you are in a remote area and cannot take sick people to a health post:
- Isolate all people exposed to sick or dead animals who develop fever plus any flu-like symptoms. A well ventilated area is best.
- Teach them respiratory hygiene:
- cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough,
- wash hands with soap every time you sneeze, cough, blow your nose, etc.,
- dispose of all personal secretions in a latrine or a fire.
- Use protective clothing, masks, gloves, shoe covers, etc., during contact with sick people. Wash after contact, and disinfect items used for their care with bleach, iodine water, or by boiling immediately.
- Give supportive care: clean water, food as tolerated, panadol for fever and symptoms, rest, and herbal over-the-counter treatment for symptoms (e.g., ginger tea for cough).
- Do not give antibiotics; they will not help. The only effective antiviral for Avian Influenza is Tamiflu, which costs $75 US/treatment and must be started in the first 48 hours. The adult dose is one tablet twice a day for 5 days. Its safety for children is not known.