Avian Influenza H5N1 Virus (Bird Flu)
Avian influenza viruses usually infect birds, but rare cases of human infection with these viruses have been reported. Humans that get avian influenza usually have come in direct contact with infected birds, birds that have died from avian influenza, or bird droppings from infected birds. "Bird flu" typically refers to an influenza A virus type called H5N1.
There are two types of influenza A H5N1: highly pathogenic and low pathogenic. The H5N1 strain commonly called "bird flu" is the highly pathogenic type. This virus strain typically infects wild waterfowl, such as ducks. Birds infected with highly pathogenic H5N1 virus can experience very mild to very severe symptoms, including death. Rarely, do domestic birds, such as chickens, also get infected with "bird flu" H5N1. In poultry, it causes severe illness and death. In rare instances, the "bird flu" virus can be transmitted to humans primarily through direct exposure to infected birds or the environment where the infected birds live. When people get infected with "bird flu" virus, it can cause severe illness and death. Currently, avian influenza H5N1 does not pass easily between people. For more information about “bird flu” in humans, please visit the CDC website.
It is important to remember that HPAI is primarily a production and economic concern for our poultry industry. It is safe to consume properly handled and cooked poultry products, including meat and eggs.
Current US Situation as of November 30, 2022
There is ongoing surveillance throughout the US and the world to look for "bird flu" in migratory waterfowl. In the US, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of the Interior, and the US Department of Health and Human Services work together on this surveillance. The highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 strain has been identified in the United States. More information on surveillance and positive results in both domestic and wild birds can be found on the USDA website.
The Arkansas Department of Health works closely with other state partners, including the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, on all animal and human-related public health concerns.
- Arkansas Department of Agriculture information on Avian Influenza
- University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service information on Avian Influenza
- CDC information on Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
- USDA APHIS information on Avian Influenza
- Arkansas Game and Fish Commission information on Avian Influenza
- Poultry owners should monitor their flocks and report any possible symptoms to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture at 501-823-1746. For wild birds, please use the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission online tool to report sick or dead birds.
- Arkansas Department of Health Avian Influenza Prevention Measures and Post-Exposure Monitoring Instructions
What is avian influenza (bird flu)?
Avian influenza, also called bird flu, is caused by a virus that infects birds such as chickens, turkeys, geese, pigeons, and pheasants. The virus is found in an infected bird’s poop as well as fluids from the bird’s eyes, nose, or mouth.
Bird flu doesn’t usually infect people, however, there are a few ways you can get infected. A person can be infected with bird flu if they:
- Touch their eyes, nose or mouth after working with infected live or dead birds.
- Touch their eyes, nose, or mouth after visiting places where infected birds have lived.
- Breathe in droplets or dust contaminated with the virus.
- Have close contact with a person already sick with the disease, though this is rare.
Symptoms of bird flu range from mild eye infections to a flu-like illness. In severe cases, bird flu can cause pneumonia and death.
Who can get bird flu?
Most humans are unlikely to get bird flu. Individuals who work with animals, such as veterinarians, farmers, animal industry experts, and wildlife professionals, or people who visit poultry farms or live-animal markets may be more likely to get infected.
What can people do to prevent bird flu?
There is no vaccine to prevent bird flu, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Avoid touching birds and visiting places where birds live
- Do not touch birds whether they are alive or dead.
- Avoid visiting live bird and poultry markets.
- Avoid Germs
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Try to avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.
If you feel sick and think you may have bird flu, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about any contact with birds. Stay away from other people while are sick.
The Arkansas poultry industry maintains rigorous health and safety standards, including routine monitoring for avian influenza. It is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry; there is no concern of avian influenza risk in processed poultry products.
Always properly handle and cook poultry products:
- Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate: Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.
- Cook: Cook all poultry to 165°F.
- Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
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