Avian Influenza and People
On this page:
- About Avian Influenza
- How Avian Influenza Spreads to People
- Symptoms of Avian Influenza in People
- What to Do If You Experience Symptoms
- How to Prevent Avian Influenza
- More Information about Influenza In Animals
About Avian Influenza
Avian influenza, or bird flu, refers to a respiratory disease caused by infection with a type of influenza (flu) virus. Avian flu viruses normally spread among wild water birds, like ducks and geese, around the world. These viruses can spread to domestic poultry, like chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea hens.
Avian flu viruses do not normally make humans sick but human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred. People who have regular contact with poultry or wild birds are most at risk.
How Avian Influenza Spreads to People
Human infections with avian flu viruses occur most often in people who have close contact with infected poultry or wild birds.
Infected birds have avian flu virus in their saliva, mucous, and feces. Humans can have contact with avian flu virus when a person touches a surface with virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can also be inhaled from droplets or dust in the air.
The spread of avian flu virus from one infected person to another is very rare. When it happens, it usually only spreads to a few people. However, since avian flu can cause severe symptoms in some people, monitoring for human infection and preventing the spread of avian flu is very important.
Symptoms of Avian Influenza in People
Symptoms of avian influenza in people include:
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Fever or Chills
Congestion or runny nose
Muscle or body aches
Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and seizures.
What to Do If You Experience Symptoms
If you become sick within 10 days of your last exposure to infected birds, isolate at home away from other household members. Do not go to work or school until you get a flu test to prove you do not have avian flu virus and you recover from your illness. Report your symptoms, as well as your recent exposure to infected or sick birds, to a healthcare provider. Follow all instructions from your state health department.
Your household members should monitor their health for 10 days from their last exposure to you. If they experience any symptoms during this time, especially respiratory symptoms, report symptoms to a healthcare provider.
Avian influenza monitoring resources:
- What to Know about Bird Flu (PDF)
- What to Do After Exposure to Avian Flu? (PDF)
- Avian Flu Symptom Tracker (PDF)
How to Prevent Avian Influenza
Avoid sources of exposure:
- Generally, avoid direct contact with wild birds. Observe them only from a distance. Wild birds can be infected with avian flu even if they do not look sick.
- Avoid unprotected contact with domestic birds, especially poultry, that look sick or have died.
- Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with saliva, mucous, or feces from wild or domestic birds.
- Do not visit the flocks of family, friends, or neighbors, especially if any of their or your birds are sick.
If you are an Avian Flu Outbreak Responder:
- Use protective equipment, including gloves, a medical facemask, and eye protection. Throw away your gloves and facemask after use.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after touching birds.
- Change your clothes before having contact with healthy domestic poultry and after handling wild birds.
- Monitor yourself for symptoms and follow all instructions from your state health department.
If you work with domestic or wild birds:
For poultry owners and agricultural producers:
- Practice good biosecurity and prevent wild birds from contacting your birds. Fine useful cleaning and disinfection checklists here.
- Look for signs of illness in your birds. Report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to USDA's toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593 or your State Veterinarian's Office.
- Follow USDA's Guidance for Poultry Producers.
- Find more information here.
If you are a hunter:
- Dress game birds in the field whenever possible.
- Wear gloves when dressing birds and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Follow USDA's Guidance for Hunters (PDF).