Bird Flu (Avian Flu) Treatment

Treatment for avian influenza varies, depending on the type of virus. The avian influenza H5N1 virus is resistant to antiviral medications used to treat other types of influenza infection (e.g., amantadine [Symmetrel], rimantadine [Flumadine]). Oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza) may be more effective against this strain, especially if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, but further studies are needed.

If bird flu is suspected, the patient should be isolated to reduce the risk for spread of the disease. In many cases, patients require hospitalization for serious respiratory complications (e.g., pneumonia). Most cases of fatal pneumonia in cases of H5N1 infection have resulted from the effects of the virus, and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Patients often require breathing assistance (i.e., a breathing machine or respirator).

Avian Flu Prevention

People who develop flu-like symptoms (e.g., cough, fever, muscle aches) within ten days of traveling to an area of the world where there is a known outbreak of bird flu should contact their health care provider immediately. When traveling in these areas, avoid live poultry markets. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. People who handle birds that may be infected should wear protective clothing and breathing masks.

In April 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first vaccine to prevent infection with the H5N1 virus. This vaccine could help prevent the spread of bird flu if the current H5N1 virus develops the ability to spread from person to person.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Aug 2007

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015