Q&A: Practical Pointers About Bird Flu

A: The World Health Organization recommends that for hands, bird flu can be killed by washing thoroughly with warm soap and water. If no water is available, use a 70% alcohol rub or gel, then wash hands when you are able. For surfaces, wipe clean with a disinfectant such as Lysol or one with sodium hypochlorite, then wash with soapy water. [World Health Organization]

How soon after being infected do bird flu symptoms start? -- Nada, of Nigeria

A: Please be aware that there is NO bird flu in the United States (indeed, the entire Western Hemisphere) at this time. As with "ordinary" influenza, symptoms begin 1 to2 days after a person has been exposed to the virus.

Note that the infected person usually starts to produce virus in their respiratory secretions and saliva before they become sick themselves. Thus, while persons still are feeling perfectly healthy, they can transmit the virus to other persons. This period of viral "shedding" before the onset of illness can be as long as 24 hours. This characteristic of influenza contributes to its rapid spread - and makes its containment difficult.

If you are infected with bird flu and survive -- does that mean you are then immune to getting it again? Are any of us immune to it already? -- Paul, Brookline, Mass.

A: None of us is immune to bird flu at present. If the virus arrives in the U.S. and if it acquires the capacity to be transmitted easily from person-to-person (two big "ifs"), those persons who become infected will be immune after they recover.

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