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Bird Flu Can Pass the Placenta Unlike Influenza (Interview with Dr. Jiang Gu)
Bird Flu Can Pass the Placenta Unlike Influenza (Interview with Dr. Jiang Gu)

(September 27, 2007 - Insidermedicine) Pregnant women can pass the bird flu virus on to their unborn babies, according to a recent study published in The Lancet.

As of August 2007, more than 300 cases of the avian flu have been reported. The condition usually results in acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in 60% of those infected.

Here are some important points to remember about preventing and treating avian influenza:

•    Influenza A H5N1 should be considered in patients who are febrile with an URTI and a know history of exposure to sick or dead poultry, wild birds, other ill people, travel to an endemic area, or in someone whose work entails handling samples.
•    Isolating all hospitalized patients who are under evaluation for influenza A, following the same precautions as those used for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. This includes a room with negative air pressure, and contacts gowning, gloving and unsing eye shields.
•    Viral replication is long, and has been noted to continue up to 15-17 days following onset of symptoms. The virus has been detected in respiratory secretions, saliva, blood and stools.

Researchers from Bejing University studied tissue from a man, a woman, and her fetus to determine how the virus affects different organs in the body. The two adults had died as a result of the bird flu virus.

The researchers were able to detect the H5N1 virus in the lungs, throat, lymph nodes, brain cells, and in the cells of the placenta. In the fetus, both viral genetic material and antigens were found in the lungs, and immune system and liver cells.

Todays research is important because it highlights 2 novel and worrisome findings: the avian flu not only affects the lungs but can affect additional organs; and, the virus can be transmitted vertically to the fetus.

The avian flu should be suspected in febrile patients who present with an acute URTI and who have come into contact with dead poultry or wild birds or who have recently traveled to an endemic area.  SARS-like precautions should also be employed.

For Insidermedicine in Depth, I'm Dr. Susan Sharma.