With the cold and flu season rapidly approaching, more and more people are keeping a close eye on their health. Doing so is one issue when all it means is avoiding the office coworker with the sniffles. But when the flu makes the national headlines, more people take notice. Of the different health scares that have generated media attention, two with flu-like symptoms stand out – bird flu and SARS. Here is a look at the similarities and differences between the two. First, it is helpful to look at the similarities of the two viruses. Both viruses are potentially fatal, with a noticeably higher mortality rate than your average cold or flu bug. Both are viruses that involve the respiratory track and lead to respiratory infections. Both started as viruses affecting only animals, and then mutated and made the jump to human infections. The symptoms of both are very similar (though initially may not seem much different than a regular bug) and include fever and difficulty breathing. Currently, there is no known cure for either virus. Although there are some similarities in the two viruses, there are also some significant differences that should be taken into account. Bird flu is caused by a flu virus, while the SARS virus is a relative of the common cold. SARS also can be transmitted from one human to another. At this point in time, bird flu can only be transmitted from an infected bird to a human. This makes the bird flu a lot harder to contract than SARS, though there is concern that it could eventually mutate into a virus capable of human to human transmission. Should that happen, scientists believe that it could infect more people than SARS. SARS itself also does not have near the fatality rate that the bird flu has had. Approximately 50% of bird flu cases have ended in death, compared to only about 10% of SARS cases. Both require hospitalization and intensive care treatment. There also has not been a confirmed case of SARS since 2003, while bird flu cases since that time have been on the rise. One similarity to note is that both SARS and the bird flu enter the body the same way: through the mucous membranes. The viruses multiply initially inside of your nasal passageways. Which means you can prevent them and protect yourself with the same basic steps. If you are going to be traveling in areas that are affected by either virus, avoid coming in contact with surfaces that may have been contaminated by infected humans or infected birds. This also includes eggs in the case of bird flu. If you have reason to think that you have been in contact with a person or bird that was infected, wash your hands immediately. It is recommended that you use natural soaps for washing your hands – not antibacterial ones as those can lead to mutation and breeding of “super germs.” Dry your hands thoroughly after washing, as both viruses can be passed more easily if your hands are wet. Keep your hands away from your face as much as possible, taking care to avoid your nose and eyes. The most important thing that you can do is to stay informed. Keeping current on medical information, particularly if you plan to travel or are engaged in business that would put you at risk for either disease, can be your greatest defense. Groups such as your local health department and the World Health Organization should publish current information as well as updated recommendations on precautions that you can take to protect yourself. That way you will be the most prepared as possible for any infectious disease situation that may come your way.