Chicago — As bird flu cases rise at a disturbing pace in Turkey, new research offers a bit of hope - it's likely that many people who get it don't become seriously ill and quickly recover.
Although not definitive, the new study suggests the virus is more widespread than thought. But it also probably doesn't kill half its victims, a fear based solely on flu cases that have been officially confirmed.
"The results suggest that the symptoms most often are relatively mild and that close contact is needed for transmission to humans," wrote Dr. Anna Thorson of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm and colleagues who conducted the study. It was published in Monday's edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.
So far, the bird flu deaths in Turkey involved children playing with dead chickens.
The new study involved 45,476 randomly selected residents of a rural region where bird flu is rampant among poultry - Ha Tay province west of Hanoi. More than 80 percent lived in households that kept poultry and one-quarter lived in homes reporting sick or dead fowl.
A total of 8,149 reported flu-like illness with a fever and cough, and residents who had direct contact with dead or sick poultry were 73 percent more likely to have experienced those symptoms than residents without direct contact.
The researchers said between 650 and 750 flu-like cases could be attributed to direct contact with sick or dead birds. While most patients said their symptoms had kept them out of work or school, the illnesses were mostly mild, lasting about three days.
By contrast, most of the more than 140 cases linked to bird flu and reported to the World Health Organization since January 2004 have been severe - killing more than half the patients.
The study authors noted that without any blood-test evidence to prove that the Vietnamese residents had bird flu, the results are only suggestive and far from conclusive.