The avian H5N1 virus spread has become larger than ever as it was found in several places in Europe; including Greece, Romania, Turkey, and even England. Since the virus was identified in Hong Kong back in 1997, this was the first case when it reached outside Asia. Those countries are now slaughtering their chickens. Turkey, for example, has been eliminating more than 9,000 animals in quarantine. In Hungary, which shares border with Romania, people seem to avoid buying poultry. “We keep telling the customers that our chickens are healthy, but they hardly buy any. Even when they stopped by, they did so only to complain about the flu,” said Iren Kirilla, a butcher in Budapest market.
South East Asia is in no better situation. After killing more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, the virus is still spreading terror. People panic at the thought of death caused by it. Last July, Lien Rosalina—a wife and mother of three—in Tangerang, Indonesia had to lose her husband and two children within one week; presumably because of bird flu. Yet nobody could tell where or how they could get infected. They lived far from any farm; they had no pet; and the whole family mostly ate the same food. In fact Rosalina and a child are in healthy condition.
Accurate explanation however may have to wait as the matter is still under investigation. But the facts are there: most H5N1 patients did not work on farmhouses; on the contrary, there are not many farm workers who have caught by this virus—even on the farms with low bio-security systems. Sometimes they work with using neither gloves nor mask. This raises a question whether they have become resistant to the virus.
So far it is certain by now that the H5N1, although very dangerous, is nonetheless weak. It becomes completely inactive under the heat, which actually gives no reason to avoid eating properly-cooked poultry. It spreads through the respiratory system; and not food digestion.
The biggest possibility for the virus to spread is through the migrating wild birds. They might drop their infected feces to human settlements. And if these dry feces mingled with dust and were inhaled by humans, it would infect them. It might be the logical explanation to Rosalina’s family in Indonesia. There is also chance that it is also carried by flies, as well as pig and other wild animals.
And for the medicine, despite common belief that Tamiflu is the cure, WHO stressed that it could only reduce the effect of the illness but was not a vaccine to prevent it. A few cases were also found when the virus was Tamiflu resistant.
But there is always hope. As the demand of an effective vaccine is increasing, recently the Hungarian government announced that their bird flu vaccine has proven to be effective against the H5N1 variant that spread from animals to human. “Now we can confirm unequivocally that the vaccine is effective,” health minister Jeno Racz said, adding that an antibody was found in the blood of the vaccinated people, including himself. For the virus spread between humans, the result remains unclear as so far there is no report on such a case. The vaccine will soon be available for free in Hungary; and other countries have shown interest, include: Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, the United States, Britain, and Germany.
While waiting for the vaccine, we might consider a practical step to prevent the virus infection; that is by taking care of the hygiene. Wash hands often; watch out for bird feces and flies; wear mask in farms. By doing so, we could keep our fitness in order to prevent the H5N1 or other viruses to come. “H5N1 virus, as well any other viruses, has close link with one’s body condition. The chance of the virus to infect into one’s body depends on their physical fitness. The healthier they are, the more difficult for the virus to infect them,” says dr Tjandra Yoga Adhitama, SpP, director of a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia.