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Bird Flu

Also called: Avian flu, Avian influenza, H5N1, H7N9
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What is bird flu?

Birds, just like people, can get the flu. Another name for bird flu is avian influenza. The viruses that cause bird flu normally only infect birds, including chickens, other poultry, and wild birds such as ducks. But sometimes the viruses can infect other animals and, in rare cases, people.

A few types of these viruses have caused most of the infections in people. They are the H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6 viruses. These infections in people have mainly been in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and the Near East. Although it's very rare, there have also been some infections in people in the United States.

How do you get bird flu?

The most common ways you can get bird flu are from:

  • Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after handling infected live or dead birds
  • Touching surfaces or handling items contaminated by bird flu viruses and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Breathing in droplets or dust contaminated with the virus

It's also possible (but very rare) to get bird flu from:

  • Another type of animal who has bird flu. Bird flu can also infect many other animals, including some dogs, cats, certain wild and zoo animals, and livestock such as cattle. These animals can then spread the flu to people.
  • Another person.
  • Eating poultry, eggs, and beef that were not properly handled and cooked.
  • Drinking raw milk.

Who is more likely to get bird flu?

Certain people may be more likely to get bird flu, including:

  • Poultry workers
  • Animal handlers
  • Wildlife biologists
  • Disease control workers
  • Research laboratory workers
  • Veterinarians
  • People who travel to countries where bird flu is present

What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?

Sometimes bird flu doesn't cause any symptoms. But if you do feel sick, your symptoms can range from mild to severe. Often, the symptoms are similar to the (seasonal) flu, such as:

People with severe illness from bird flu may have pneumonia and might need to be hospitalized.

How is bird flu diagnosed?

Laboratory testing is used to diagnose bird flu. It's usually done with a nasal or throat swab. This testing is more accurate when the swab is collected during the first few days of illness.

For people who are severely ill, health care providers may do testing of a different sample, such as fluid taken during a bronchoalveolar lavage or other procedure.

What are the treatments for bird flu?

Bird flu is treated with antiviral medicines. It's important to get them as soon as possible. The medicines may make your illness less severe.

You may also be given antiviral medicines if you were exposed to a person or animal who has the virus. This may help prevent you from getting sick.

Can bird flu be prevented?

There is currently no vaccine available to the public. The government has developed a virus that is similar to some H5N1 viruses. The virus could be used to produce a vaccine for people, if needed.

It's important to take precautions to prevent bird flu:

  • If you have a job or pastime that puts you in contact with birds or other animals, make sure to use proper protective equipment.
  • Otherwise try to avoid direct contact with wild birds and other animals.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching birds or other animals.
  • Since it's possible to get bird flu through some foods, make sure to handle and cook your food safely and avoid raw milk.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.