Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Is the avian influenza virus still a threat?"
Can I get bird flu? I am a 30 year old woman. I am traveling next year and want to prevent contracting it.
Influenza is a common viral illness that affects thousands to millions of people each year. There are many people who have this virus and recover quickly, as well as some who can become severely ill and even die from it. If you have any concerns specific to your health condition I would recommend that you discuss this with your primary care doctor. Influenza is a virus that causes symptoms of cough, fever, muscle pains, headaches and fatigue. The virus is made up of various "viral particles." For example, there are particles known as H particles and then N particles. Each year, the virus changes a little bit, in that it has a new combination of the the H particles and N particles. The virus often changes with two separate influenza viruses meet in an organism -- like a pig -- and then trade the particles. The new virus with the new mix of particles can cause significant illness because it is something that no humans have seen before -- as such there is no great defense built up in people's immune system. This is what happened in 2009 with the "swine flu" or H1-N1 influenza. This is what also happened in the avian flu, as well as the large flu in 1918. Every 10-15 years or so a new and dangerous combination forms that causes problems. There is no way to predict when it will happen. The only way to prevent it is to get a yearly influenza vaccine, where the body is exposed to a few types of the virus. You can get the flu, but a influenza vaccine yearly can reduce your risk. If you are otherwise healthy, you should tolerate it and recover easily. I recommend discussing this with your primary care doctor.
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