H5N1 is a highly pathogenic avian (bird) flu virus that has caused serious outbreaks in domestic poultry. Avian influenza viruses (H5N1 virus) are highly species-specific and can infect people eating poultry that is not well cooked. People who have direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces can become sick and can even cause death. Currently, the spread of Avian Flu virus from person to person is rarely heard of. However, the virus is self-adapting and known to change. Hence there is an ongoing monitoring system to study the H5N1 symptoms and understand the change in the behaviour of the virus.
Avoiding exposure sources is currently the best way to prevent Avian Influenza infection, especially since most human Avian Influenza infections are known to occur with people who come into contact with infected poultry. If someone has come in contact with infected birds, they take antiviral drugs as a preventive measure. Hence not only can antiviral drugs be used to treat Avian Influenza or the H5N1 Virus, but it can also be used to prevent anyone exposed to the Avian Influenza or the H5N1 Virus.
The infection that occurs with this virus cannot be detected/diagnosed through the common clinical signs and symptoms. Commonly observed Avian Flu symptoms include: Fever, Cough, Sore throat, Muscle aches, Conjunctivitis Eye Infections. In severe cases, breathing problems, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications that may be fatal are diagnosed with H5N1 symptoms. The severity of the infection depends on the individual immune system.
The symptoms of bird flu may depend on which virus caused the infection. More accurate testing can be achieved with the collection of the swab for testing during the first few days of the illness. When the swab is sent to the laboratory, it gets checked for the Avian Influenza A virus. The testing is done by growing the virus or by a molecular test. In certain situations, both might need to be done to check for the virus.
Sometimes, detecting the Avian Influenza A virus in patients who have not recovered completely might be difficult. At times, for critically ill patients, swab collection of the lower respiratory tract might help with the diagnosis. Another way to detect the infection would be by looking for the presence of antibodies, that the body produces as a response to the virus.
Sometimes, assessing the condition of the lungs using X-rays might prove useful in the diagnosis and might also assist the treatment options depending on the signs and symptoms of the infected person.
Specimen type: Nasopharyngeal Swab
Specimen collection procedure: A dry swab would be inserted through one nostril straight back (not upwards), along with the floor of the nasal passage until it reaches the wall of the nasopharynx. The distance from the nose to the ear would give an estimate of the distance the swab should be inserted. The swab is gently rotated and left in its place for up to 10 seconds. The swab is placed immediately into the transport container.
Avian Flu (H5N1) Test detects the influenza virus and its types (Type A & B) or to analyse and diagnose antibodies against the virus. This test is done by a collecting swab from the upper respiratory tract of the infected person. In case, the virus has to be grown; it needs to be done in special laboratories with high biosafety levels.
The test results are simple to understand and show “Positive” if there is an infection and “Negative” if there is no infection.
Preparatory instructions before the test: The swab must be collected within 3 days of symptoms. There may be a feeling of choking or other discomforts. One must sit with their head against a wall to reduce the tendency of pulling away during the procedure.
The use of antiviral drugs is recommended for the treatment of Avian Flu or the H5N1 virus. Antiviral drugs, like oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza) and peramivir, should be taken within 2 days or 48 hours of the symptoms. However, there are certain strains of viruses like the Asian H5N1 and Asian H7N9, which are known to show some resistance to the medication. This behaviour of the virus is very crucial and is being monitored continuously; since the disease is known to have a high mortality in humans.
There is an Avian Influenza vaccine available which is known to treat a certain strain of Asian avian influenza A H5N1 viruses. However, this vaccine, which is used for H5N1 treatment, has not been made available to the general public and has been stockpiled, in case of an outage this vaccine can be used. Since the influenza viruses are known to change, there are is ongoing research to make new vaccine viruses, as and when needed.
The results of the test can take anything from 24 to 36 Hours; depending on whether the molecular test has succeeded and we have the relevant result or if the virus needs to be grown.
‘*A Reference range is a set of values which helps the healthcare professional to interpret a medical test. It may vary with age, gender, and other factors. Reference ranges may also vary between labs, in value & units depending on instruments used and method of establishment of reference ranges’
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