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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 18:08 GMT
Q&A: Your bird flu concerns

Concern is growing about the spread of bird flu from birds to humans and the possibility of the H5N1 virus mutating so it can pass easily from human to human.

The BBC news website has asked the experts to answer your questions on the issues.

A virologist, the BBC's medical correspondent and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds respond to your concerns.


What is the incubation time for humans - from bird to human?
Marlene Dahl, Borga, Finland

So far in south-east Asia it has taken a human being seven days to develop the symptoms. This is the period from the time you have been infected to the time it takes to get sick.

Human flu strikes primarily in the winter, is this the case with bird flu? Come summer will the risk of it spreading diminish?
David Davies, Howden, UK

With the new pandemics, they can strike at any time. If they do spread it might be easier in winter. However during the summer months, people need to be on high alert too.

Will the government bring into force human quarantine restrictions if an outbreak occurs, regardless of where an outbreak occurs?
D Clenshaw, Dorchester and London

Professor Oxford doesn't believe human quarantine restrictions will be put into place. The government will encourage "social distancing". This involves keeping distance from people in large indoor areas such as cinemas and theatres. This wouldn't apply to large outdoor areas such as football matches etc.

My family and I are going to Hong Kong in March for two weeks. I see that under your Q&As you have mentioned some anti-viral drugs to help limit symptoms and reduce the chances the disease will spread.
Kit Tsang, Leeds, UK

There is no need to take anti-viral drugs before your holiday. However while you are out there, it is best to avoid live bird markets and accident and emergency areas in hospitals.

I would like to know the name of the available medication (and where it is available in Egypt or Arab countries) that gives a person or child (2-5 years) the highest probability of survival if infected with the bird flu.
Samia Asaad, Cairo, Egypt

There are two drugs that you can take. Tamiflu which is produced by Roche and Relenza which is produced by Glaxo Smith Kline.

What is the symptom of bird flu in humans?
Mahuya Chatterjee, Pune, India

The symptoms are: headache, chest pains, temperature and mild diarrhoea.

Is the disease painful? How will we know if we have it? Will vaccinations be given to the British public, if so when? When is bird flu estimated to hit the UK? Can dogs catch the flu of birds? Can humans then catch the flu off dogs?
Lauren Smith, Broadstairs, England

Symptoms are as above. Mortality at the moment is quite high from bird flu, however, if it spreads the death rate will drop. The government is stockpiling the vaccine and this will be available if there's an outbreak. Dogs cannot catch bird flu from birds so far as we know.


What is the origin of bird flu? Is it a new disease and how can it be prevented?
Joseph Kobe, Freetown, Sierra Leone

The H5N1 virus first became a major concern in Hong Kong in 1997 when thousands of birds became infected. Six people died as a result of contact with six birds. The entire poultry population was destroyed - rapid action which prevented the disease spreading beyond Hong Kong. But the disease cropped up later in China and has since become endemic in south-east Asia. Its origin is usually wild birds and it's impossible to prevent them from catching it. The aim is to prevent them from passing the virus onto domestic fowl which can be done by ensuring flocks are kept away from wherever ducks, swans and wild geese congregate.

Remember this is a disease of birds not humans. For a human to be infected they need direct contact with a diseased animal.

It is said that 'the only people thought to be at risk are those involved in the slaughter and preparation of meat that may be infected'. However that may include housewives/chefs etc 'preparing' the chicken meat for dinner not knowing that chicken was infected! Also, my concern is that if migratory birds become infected - how might we deal with House Martins nesting in the eaves of our homes? Maybe I should be thinking of preventing them from building their nests on my home now!
May Parker, St Nets, England

There have not been any recent cases of H5N1 in chickens in the EU. All the cases have been in swans or ducks. The birds most at risk from H5N1 are wildfowl and domestic poultry. Other birds may be at risk but for some reason tend to be more resistant and so less likely to carry the virus. You should stay away from any sick looking wild birds and contact Defra. Here's some advice from their website:

There is a small possibility that some wild birds may be affected by the highly pathogenic form of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in the UK this autumn and winter. If you come across a suspicious die-off of wild birds please do not touch them. Contact Defra on 08459 335577 immediately (wherever you are in the UK). In general, however, to guard against a wide variety of illness including avian influenza it is always prudent to exercise basic hygiene (e.g. washing hands with soap, especially before eating) when coming into close contact with wild animals.

At a time when there is a lot of misinformation on this issue circulating, it is essential to keep matters in perspective and to sift fact from fiction. We reiterate that, to the best of our current knowledge, we consider the chance of wild birds bringing highly pathogenic H5N1 to the UK to be low and the potential for onwards transmission from wild birds to people to be very low.

I'd like to know whether the bird flu can spread to dogs - my Labrador is constantly picking up dead birds and eating them. I would like to understand (a) the risks of her catching bird flu, and (b) the chances of her then passing it on to us. Is this something the BBC could investigate and report on?
Lindsay Keswick, Bury St Edmunds

Your dog should be quite safe and probably most at risk from indigestion knowing what Labradors are prepared to eat! I don't know of any cases of dogs being infected with bird flu but tigers certainly can be. Of more concern would be your dog picking up an infected duck or swan and bringing it home. But that's a pretty remote risk given that we haven't had a single case in the UK to date.

My concern is more for my daughter then myself. For example, should I not be letting her go to duck ponds, farm parks etc at the moment?
Debby Fairweather, Kent, UK

There's no reason for your daughter to stop feeding ducks at the moment as there is no suggestion that we have any avian flu in Britain. Sensible precautions, such as hand-washing, should always be observed when in contact with wild birds.

I am concerned about eggs from the chickens, sometimes when you buy eggs, there can be faeces still on the egg, would this contain the virus? Also eating soft boiled/fried eggs, (I have always eaten them like that) do they contain the virus too? Should I be concerned?
Karen Leslie, East Kilbride, UK

There is no bird flu in the UK. There have been no current cases of bird flu in poultry in the EU. It is always sensible to clean off faeces on an egg as this can carry germs. Properly cooked soft boiled and fried eggs would kill both the bird flu virus and salmonella bacteria.


If as you say "humans catch the disease through close contact with live infected birds. Birds excrete the virus in their faeces, which dry and become pulverised, and are then inhaled", why is nothing being done about the large pigeon populations is many town centres? Surely they must be a very high risk to large number of people of all ages.
Mr P Wilkinson, Isleworth

Feeding birds remains safe, but it is sensible to wash your hands thoroughly after filling or cleaning bird feeders, hand-feeding pigeons or ducks, or if you come into contact with bird droppings. There are several ways by which H5N1 might be transmitted. Globally, the most important of these has been the unrestricted movement of poultry and poultry products. This is how the disease spread through south-east Asia and probably how it reached Nigeria. The virus has been isolated and contained in wild-caught birds in customs or quarantine in Belgium, England and Taiwan.

The passive transfer of infected material on vehicle wheels or feet is another possible route of transfer. The only way to control the disease is through continued surveillance, improved bio security, good public information, effective border controls, and swift action to contain an outbreak through efficient culls of infected poultry flocks. The species most likely to carry the disease are ducks, geese and swans. Obviously, it would be sensible to wash your hands after cleaning up droppings - any bird can carry bacterial infections. Basic hygiene is always sensible.

What plans are being put in place for an early warning system for the UK - for example I live in Suffolk near the east coast. As this area may reasonably be considered to be at risk now that France has H5N1 incidence, who should be contacted if dead birds particularly swans are found?
Terry Titmus, Rendham, Suffolk

Defra have been conducting surveillance and testing of both live and dead birds since October. The RSPB has played a major role in stepping up surveillance on reserves. If you find a dead bird, you are advised not to touch it and telephone the Defra helpline on 08459 335577.

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