Stopping Bird Flu by Spreading Knowledge About Protective Steps
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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty. Today we present the third in a series of reports about the disease bird flu. In this report, we will tell how people can protect themselves and their families from the disease.
The World Health Organization says the world is closer to a pandemic of the influenza virus than at any time since nineteen sixty-eight. In a pandemic, the flu virus would spread quickly to large numbers of people in many countries. Right now, a deadly bird flu virus is not spreading among people very easily. But that could change. The W.H.O. and other health organizations believe people can help stop the spread of bird flu if they have more information about the disease.
By the end of March, one hundred seventy people had died of bird flu in twelve countries. Vietnam had a very high number of deaths at first. But the country has had no human cases of bird flu since late two thousand five.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says animal health officials in Vietnam have been able to prevent the virus in farm birds from spreading to people. Part of the reason is better communication at all levels about the causes and prevention of bird flu.
Most bird flu cases in human beings have resulted from people touching infected farm birds, such as chickens, ducks or turkeys. Last year, for example, bird flu killed three members of a family in Egypt. They lived in the same house. All three persons had helped to kill and clean infected ducks.
The Egyptian government has offered important advice for people who work with live birds. The government says protection from bird flu comes partly from knowing how to recognize the disease and strong prevention efforts. It says protection also results from stopping the spread of the virus, and informing health officials when you suspect bird flu.
In many countries, chicken and other farm birds are an important part of the diet. Farm bird sales are important to the economies in these countries. So some governments have organized campaigns to tell people to continue eating well-cooked chicken.
Some health officials and governments have had problems when they attempt to give advice about bird flu. When bird flu is reported in a country, the government usually announces how people can prevent the disease in their own families. Other announcements say it is safe to eat chicken and eggs as long as they are completely cooked. Yet people often do not follow the rules about preventing bird flu. For example, they may stop eating chicken and eggs. A writer in The Scientist magazine noted recently that people's feelings sometimes are stronger than the facts.
In Africa, many families keep chickens and other birds near their homes. Many people buy live chickens from markets. So everyone could be at risk.
Here is the best information about ways to protect yourself and your family from bird flu. First, children and women who are pregnant should stay away from farm birds. Children like to play with birds and other animals, but they are not careful about what they touch. Children should not play with birds or gather their eggs.
Do not swim in or use water that may have been used by birds. Heat any of this water to a very high temperature before drinking it or using it for cooking.
Wear protective clothing on your body and hands when working with farm birds. Remember to clean your shoes or feet before going in the house. Keep birds away from areas where people eat or sleep. In fact, it is best not to bring farm birds into the house at all.
It is also important to follow rules of good health and cleanliness when preparing and eating meat or eggs from farm birds. Keep the meat of birds that have not been cooked away from other foods. After cutting uncooked meat, use soap and water to wash hands, knives and cutting surfaces. If possible, use a strong cleaning agent like bleach.
Be sure that meat and eggs from farm birds are completely cooked before eating them. The yellow and white parts of the egg must be cooked until they are solid. Freezing or keeping meat cold will not kill the bird flu virus. Only complete cooking will kill the virus.
You can also protect farm birds from bird flu. When buying chickens, keep them away from the birds you already have for at least two weeks. Cover the water your birds drink so that it is not used by wild birds. Clean the areas where farm birds stay. As soon as a bird looks sick, remove it from the area. If you take birds to the market and bring some of them home, temporarily keep them away from your other birds.
Owners of farms also can take preventative steps. They should not borrow equipment from other farms. If vehicles enter your farm, wash the wheels so they cannot bring in dirt that might contain the bird flu virus. When you return from a market, wash the boxes or containers that were used to carry farm birds.
You need to know the signs of bird flu in a chicken or duck. Birds will appear tired and refuse to eat. The skin around a bird's head may become blue. The head and legs may become larger. Birds infected with bird flu may produce more waste than usual. They usually make very few eggs and may die suddenly. The shells of their eggs may be very soft.
Prevent the spread of bird flu by putting dead farm birds into closed containers or bags. Do not throw dead birds into lakes, rivers or other waterways. Do not eat or sell any part of a bird that has died from disease. Bury dead farm birds or their body parts far away from homes and farms.
It is important to report dead birds to animal health officials as soon as possible. If there is bird flu in your area, do not visit other farms or let visitors come to your farm.
There are also rules for hunters and people who work with birds for sport. Wash your hands completely when touching birds used for sport or wild birds. Do not touch any of the bird's blood or body fluids. Cover your nose and mouth when cleaning areas where birds have been fighting.
If you hunt birds, do not use dogs. Dogs can become infected with the bird flu virus when they carry infected birds. Do not hunt wild birds in areas where there have been cases of bird flu. When you are cleaning birds you have killed, cover your nose, mouth and hands. Be sure to wash your hands and all your tools after you are finished.
What happens if you follow all these rules and someone in your family gets sick? How will you know if it is bird flu? People who could be infected with the bird flu virus will have difficulty breathing. They may have a very high body temperature, an eye infection and pain in their throat or muscles.
If someone you know has these problems, care for the person without touching him anymore than you need to. Do not sleep in the same room with a person who may have bird flu. Take the person to a doctor as soon as possible.
There are medicines that can help make the bird flu sickness less severe. Scientists are working to make a medicine to protect against bird flu. There are some such vaccines for farm birds. Last month, American health officials approved a vaccine that offers some people protection against bird flu. But scientists are working to develop a more effective vaccine.
Finally, it is important to find good ways to share information about bird flu. For example, a group of parents in Indonesia started their own campaign to educate other parents. A leader of the group said too many families do not have televisions to see announcements from the government. So the group organized a four-hour program in a local school. One parent said she wanted to share the information she learned so that there would be no more bird flu deaths in Indonesia.
Another leader said the group wants to educate workers who collect waste and people who sell goods on city streets. She said these people could talk to other people and help spread information about the disease. As one school official has noted, more people will die if public knowledge about bird flu is lacking.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Karen Leggett. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week at this time for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.