Avian Flu Overview

A type of flu which currently threatens bird populations and has infected a small number of humans. This is known as avian (bird) flu, and carries a specific scientific label known as H5N1.

Avian flu is a major threat to bird populations, wiping out thousands at a time.

Avian flu first appeared in Hong Kong several years ago, and it has been steadily making its way to more and more countries since then. Avian flu is now present in birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, most of Asia, and Indonesia. The virus is spread by migratory birds who survive their infection and carry it to new places. It is possible that migratory birds may one day introduce Avian flu into North and South America.

Almost all cases of human infection by this virus have occurred in individuals who have had extensive contact with sick or diseased infected birds. Avian influenza in humans cannot be diagnosed by symptoms alone, so a laboratory test is required. Avian influenza is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the nose or throat during the first few days of illness. This swab is then sent to a laboratory. Avian influenza can be diagnosed by drawing two blood specimens (one taken during the first few days of illness and another taken some weeks later), but it can take several weeks to verify the results.

You cannot get avian influenza from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs.

There currently is no scientific evidence that people have been infected with bird flu by eating safely handled and properly cooked poultry or eggs.

Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds. Even if poultry and eggs were to be contaminated with the virus, proper cooking would kill it.

So to stay safe, the advice is the same for protecting against any infection from poultry:

The U.S. government carefully controls domestic and imported food products, and has banned importation of poultry from countries affected by avian influenza viruses, including the H5N1 strain.