AS BIRD flu, or Avian Influenza, raged through Asia, countries such as Vietnam, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are stepping up on massive culling of their poultry as they are seized by a realisation that the animal virus could eventually threaten human lives.
Their fears are not unfounded. According to a warning issued by the World Health Organisation's spokesman for Vietnam, Bob Dietz, it is possible that an avian influenza virus could mutate to the extent of person-to-person transmission. This would then spark a global outbreak of an influenza pandemic which would be more severe than SARS. Past influenza pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss.
Faced with the vicious spread of Bird Flu, we have collated some information regarding this potential pandemic and highlighted necessary precautions to be taken, in order to provide all Bel'Airians with insights to assist them in the active protection of their health.
Understanding Bird Flu
All birds are believed to be susceptible to infection with avian influenza (bird flu). In the reservoir of influenza viruses, fifteen subtypes are known to have adverse impacts on birds, thus presenting a potential time bomb circulating amongst bird populations. To date, all outbreaks of the highly pathogenic form have been caused by subtypes H5 and H7 of influenza A viruses.
Recent research has shown that viruses of low pathogenicity can mutate into highly pathogenic viruses after brief circulation among poultry. From 1983 to 1984, America witnessed an epidemic where the H5N2 virus, which initially caused low mortality, became highly pathogenic within six months, driving the mortality rate up to 90%. During an epidemic in Italy from 1999 to 2001, the H7N1 virus, which started of on low pathogenicity footing, mutated within 9 months to a highly pathogenic form. More than 13 million birds died or were destroyed.
The quarantine of infected farms and destruction of infected or potentially exposed flocks are standard control measures aimed at curbing the spread of the disease. Avian influenza viruses are not only highly contagious, they are readily transmitted from farm to farm by mechanical means, including contaminated equipment, vehicles, feed, cages and clothing. The key protection measure really lies in stringent sanitary measures on the farms.
The Highly Pathogenic H5N1
Of the 15 avian influenza virus subtypes mentioned earlier, H5N1 is of particular concern due to its rapid mutation speed and documented propensity to acquire genes from viruses infecting other animal species. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that isolates from this virus have high pathogenicity and can cause severe disease in humans. Birds that survive infection will excrete vir>us for at least 10 days, orally and in faeces, thus magnifying the spread at live poultry markets and by migratory birds.
The epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza caused by H5N1, which began in mid-December 2003 in Korea, is now rampaging in other Asian countries. H5N1 variants demonstrated a capacity to directly infect humans in 1997, and have reared their ugly heads again in Vietnam in January 2004. The spread of infection in birds increases the probability for human infection as well as the likelihood that humans, concurrently infected with human and avian influenza strains, could serve as the "mixing vessel" for the emergence of a novel subtype with sufficient human genes that encourages easy person-to-person transmission. This would kick-start an influenza pandemic.
According to the latest news from the World Health Organisation, the H5N1 virus has been discovered from the corpse of pigs infected with avian influenza. This greatly elevates the possibility of avian influenza virus combining with the human flu virus to form a new virus which constitutes a danger 1000 times that of SARS. This could probably reactivate a catastrophe like the Spanish flu which plagued the world from 1918-1919, resulting in 20 to 50 million deaths worldwide.
Possibilities of Human Infection
The first documented infection of humans with an avian influenza virus occurred in Hong Kong in 1997, when the H5N1 strain caused severe respiratory disease in 18 humans, of whom 6 died. Extensive investigation determined that the source of infection was close contact with live infected poultry. Studies at the genetic level gave a shocking revelation that the virus had jumped directly from birds to humans.
Alarm mounted again in January 2004, when laboratory tests confirmed the presence of H5N1 avian influenza virus in human cases of severe respiratory disease in the northern part of Vietnam. Taking our cue from recent history, it is now a necessity for us to be equipped with comprehensive protection.
Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Humans
The reported symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia and other severe and life-threatening complications. Present cases infer that lower bronchial tube symptoms and lung inflammation are also striking differences that set avian influenza apart from the common flu.
1. Refrain from travelling to areas infected by avian influenza. If travel cannot be avoided, be sure to update yourself with all your shots and see your health-care provider at least 4-6 weeks before you leave to get any additional shots or information you may need.
2. Avoid areas with live poultry, such as live animal markets and poultry farms, especially in areas infected by avian influenza. Large amounts of the virus are known to be excreted in the droppings from infected birds. Clean your hands often using either soap and water or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitisers, especially after contact with poultry. Children should especially avoid contact with live poultry.
3. Heat will destroy influenza viruses. Therefore, all foods from poultry, including eggs, should be thoroughly cooked.
4. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when they are contaminated with secretions (such as after sneezing).
5. As there are currently no effective vaccinations, it is vital to keep one's immunity at the peak and maintain a healthy lifestyle for protection against diseases.
Bel'Air Action Plan should the Bird Flu Spread
Maintaining personal hygiene, optimal health conditions and a strong immunity system are of course essentials. As Bel'Airians, we can also use certain products to boost personal and family health.
Combining the recommendations of Professor Tsai Ying Chieh and Professor Willy Wang, we present to you some health guides:
1. Maintain hygiene of your hands: The chief way by which we can be infected with bird flu is through physical contact. Therefore, clean your hands frequently with Guardian Angel and Genie to help combat the growth of virus and germs and to eliminate such pathogens which could exist in the environment.
2. Use aromatherapy often: Besides removing germs and pathogens, aromatherapy also enhances health maintenance. Use essential oils such as thyme, juniper, green tea, chypre, eucalyptus, pyrethre, bois de santal and basilic.
3. Raise Immunity: The immunity system is the defence system of the body and needs to have sufficient rest to restore its strength and prevent its exhaustion from inflammation and over-reaction. Use Magnolia bio-tech pure essential oil to reduce chronic inflammation and maintain the proper functioning of the immunity system. Use the essential oil by means of direct aromatherapy or aroma-vapourisation using the bio-tech burner. Combine it with Vital Meridian Essence to massage the chest, back and nose, so as to ease absorption.
4. Be happy: Stress will decrease immunity by as much as 80%. Use 50% of lavande and 50% of basilic, with the addition of Nepenthe bio-tech pure essential oil using the aroma-vapourisation method. These will reduce unnecessary stress and promote good sleep. Disease precaution, which serves to elevate immunity and maintain a healthy lifestyle, is more important than medical cure!
Nur Syahid, a Natural Aromatherapist, specializes in Bio-Tech Aromatherapy including oxygen therapy, ozone therapy, health aromatherapy.