Bird Flu Fact Sheet

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What is Avian Influenza (bird flu)?

Avian Influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is extremely contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, very sick and even kill them.

Can humans be infected?

Bird flu viruses do not usually infect humans, but there have been more than 100 confirmed cases of human infection with bird flu viruses since 1997. The World Health Organization maintains situation updates and cumulative reports regarding human cases of avian influenza. Visit their Web site for current updates and additional information.

How are people infected?

Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chickens, ducks and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds. The spread of avian influenza from ill person to another person has been reported very rarely and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.


Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore-throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress syndrome), and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of avian influenza may depend on which specific virus subtype and strain.

Preparations for an outbreak

Concerns about the possibility of an avian influenza pandemic have prompted international and national efforts to institute pandemic preparedness measures. We are working with the Centers for Disease Control, The World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and many others to develop a plan which provides funding for early detection, containment, and treatment of an outbreak. Scientists and researchers are working around the clock to develop a vaccine which is effective against an avian influenza virus outbreak and our government has pledged the money to make the vaccine available to all those in need.

Are there any risks from eating poultry?

There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source for avian influenza viruses.

Implications to human health

There are two main risks for human health from avian influenza:

  • The risk of direct infection when the virus passes from the infected bird to humans.
  • The risk that the virus-if given enough opportunities-will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person.

Seasonal influenza vaccine

Influenza vaccine for the 2005-2006 seasons does not provide protection against avian influenza.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization  

Page last updated: 8/10/2015 3:48:13 PM