Avian influenza, or “bird flu,” has ruffled quite a few feathers lately. The disease is usually limited to birds, poultry, ducks, and pigs, but there have been a growing number of human cases in recent years. Health experts also are concerned that the most common and most dangerous strain of the virus, H5N1, could transform itself and spread to humans.
While there is no vaccine yet, the battle against bird flu got some reinforcement this week with the approval of a new test for humans by the FDA. The test can detect the H5N1 strain in less than 40 minutes. If people have flu-like symptoms, a simple nose or throat swab can check to see if they are infected.
So far, human cases of bird flu have occurred primarily in Asia and Africa. Most infections happened after direct contact with poultry that were carrying the virus. Other ways of getting bird flu may include consuming poultry that isn’t thoroughly cooked or by coming in contact with another infected person.
Symptoms of bird flu are similar to signs of the regular flu, such as sore throat, fever, and muscle aches. The disease can make some people very sick or even be life-threatening.