Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
I've never gotten a flu shot before, but with all the talk about bird flu, should I get one? How serious is the bird flu?
Unfortunately, current flu shots will not protect against bird flu or avian influenza. There are many different influenza viruses. Bird flu is an H5N1 virus. Flu shots given this year cover other virus strains such as H1N1 ('swine flu"), H3N2, and B.
To date, there have been no reported cases of the bird flu in the United States. From 2003-2012, World Health Organization (WHO at www.who.int) reports that in other countries there have been 606 reported cases and 357 deaths, the most deaths occurred in Indonesia (157 deaths), then Viet Nam and Egypt (60,60 respectively). In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a vaccine for humans against the H5N1 influenza virus, but it is not available to the public. According to the FDA, the vaccine "could be used in the event the current H5N1 avian virus were to develop the capability to efficiently spread from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of the disease across the globe" (FDA, 2007).
WHO pointed out the current status of vaccine research and development: "Vaccines are considered the first line of defence for reducing the excess morbidity and mortality that invariably accompany pandemics. For several reasons, no country will have adequate supplies of vaccine at the start of a pandemic and for many months thereafter. Large-scale commercial vaccine production is not expected to commence until about three to six months following the emergence of a pandemic virus" (WHO, 2009).
What is Bird Flu
According to the CDC, bird flu occurs naturally in wild birds without making them sick, but infected domesticated birds (chickens, ducks, turkeys) do become sick. If people improperly handle, eat sick birds without cooking properly, or come in contact with contaminated surfaces, then they can become sick.
Fully cooking poultry and poultry products (i.e. eggs) will kill the bird flu virus and lower the risk of human infection. Also, thoroughly wash hands with soap and water, prevent cross-contamination of poultry with other foods, and clean and disinfect surfaces that have come in contact with poultry (WHO, 2009).
Bird Flu Pandemic
There have been reports about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease). But, three conditions that must be met before a pandemic can start (CDC, 2008; WHO, 2009):
1) a new influenza subtype emerges;
2) it affects humans, and
3) it spreads easily and sustainably among humans.
The first two conditions have been met, but not the third. The H5N1 virus is a new virus for humans, and it has infected 399 humans, killing 252. Fortunately however, there has not been establishment of human-to-human transmission (WHO, 2009).
For more information, go to
For the latest information about bird flu and vaccines, see www.cdc.gov and
Updated information on recent outbreaks can be found at www.who.int