How To Protect Yourself From Bird Flu, From The Harvard Health Letter

Published: May 23, 2006

BOSTON, May 23 /PRNewswire/ -- News media are full of scary headlines about the H5N1 bird flu virus and the possibility that it might spread among the human population. Yet researchers note that no human flu pandemic has ever involved a flu virus of the H5 subtype. On the other hand, the H5N1 virus has already jumped from birds to pigs and cats, as well as infecting some people, suggesting it might have the capacity to develop into a flu that passes directly from one human to another. So should we be afraid -- or cynical?

Neither, says the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter. No one knows for sure if H5N1 is going to explode or fizzle, or whether a different flu virus with greater pandemic potential might be out there.

Whether the H5N1 virus will "make the jump" and spread among humans is uncertain, but here are some tips you can take now to protect yourself just in case:

* Get a regular flu shot this fall. It won't protect you from bird flu, but it will reduce your risk of getting regular flu and bird flu at the same time. * Don't count on antiviral medications. Some experts say there is "no credible evidence" that these drugs help against bird flu, and their use may create resistant strains. * Wash your hands regularly. * Stay away from birds and their droppings. * Stock up on water and nonperishable groceries. Also in this issue: - Hormone therapy and heart disease - Racing hearts and roller coasters - Low sodium intake and iodine shortfalls - Saliva instead of blood for medical tests? - Bed bugs - A doctor discusses: Statins for the elderly, and lines on fingernails

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 1-877-649-9457 (toll free).

Harvard Health Publications also offers a new 44-page report, Bird Flu: How to understand your risk and protect your health. It is available for $16 online only, as a downloadable PDF.

Harvard Health Publications

CONTACT: Christine Junge of Harvard Health Publications, +1-617-432-4717,

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