Healthcare workers vulnerable to H5N1 influenza

After poultry farm workers, healthcare professionals are considered the most vulnerable to being infected by H5N1 avian influenza.

H5N1 does not easily infect humans, but when it does it has a high mortality rate. The virus is considered to have pandemic potential because it continues to circulate widely in some poultry populations and most humans have no immunity to it, according to the World Health Organization.

"If there are a large number of poultry affected by this virus, then it spreads due to fecal contamination in the air. If they inhale it and the virus reaches the lungs, then they contract it," Dr. V. Ravi of the Indian National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences said, DNAIndia reports. "About 30 to 40 percent of those who contract it die within a week if left untreated. When a person inhales the virus, it takes about two-three days to show symptoms which manifest as cold and flu."

Ravi said that government response usually includes an immediate quarantine of the area where the infection is found. The birds in that area are generally culled. For that reason, Ravi does not think H5N1 poses much of a threat unless it mutates. He did, however issue a warning to healthcare professionals.

"What we have noticed from other countries where they have been human cases is that it next spreads through health care professionals," Ravi said, according to DNAIndia. "So health care professionals should take care. Even then, we are prepared for any suspected cases and have also provided personal kits for healthcare professionals for anyone who has to treat cases."