Are there treatments for bird flu in humans?

File photo of Tamiflu, which is used to treat symptoms caused by the seasonal flu and can also be used for bird flu.

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Probst

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Probst

File photo of Tamiflu, which is used to treat symptoms caused by the seasonal flu and can also be used for bird flu.

Bird flu infections in humans are extremely rare. There have been fewer than 1,000 known cases around the globe since it was first identified in humans in 1997.

There have been only two confirmed human cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the first in 2022 in Colorado in a poultry worker, and the second reported on April 1 connected with the most recent outbreak of bird flu in dairy cows.

But scientists are on alert for changes in the virus that may give it the ability to spread easily between people.

Here’s a look at medical treatment for bird flu in humans.

Q: How is bird flu treated in humans?

Available data and limited studies suggest several antiviral medications used to treat seasonal flu in people are also effective against bird flu, according to the CDC. These antivirals include oseltamivir, sold under the brand name Tamiflu.

Antiviral medicines can help reduce the severity of the illness, prevent complications and improve the chances of survival.

The key is for people with suspected or confirmed infections to take the antivirals as soon as possible. Antiviral treatment works best when started within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms.

For more serious infections, supportive care such as oxygen therapy and IV fluids may also be needed. A severe case could require a patient be placed on a breathing machine.

Historically, bird flu carries a high mortality rate in humans and complications of bird flu can include pneumonia and sepsis.

Q: Can antivirals be used to prevent an infection?

Maybe. Antivirals are sometimes given to a person soon after an exposure to a sick or dead animal in order to prevent an infection.

Q: Are Tamiflu and other flu antivirals available over the counter?

A: No. They are only available with a doctor’s prescription.

Q: How do the antivirals work?

Antivirals such as Tamiflu work by attacking the flu virus to keep it from multiplying in your body. This helps reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms.