Birds, just like people, get the flu. Bird flu viruses infect birds, including chickens, other poultry, and wild birds such as ducks. Usually bird flu viruses only infect other birds. It is rare for people to get infected with bird flu viruses, but it can happen. Two types, H5N1 and H7N9, have infected some people during outbreaks in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. There have also been some rare cases of other types of bird flu affecting people in the United States.
Most of the people who get bird flu have had close contact with infected birds or with surfaces that have been contaminated by the birds' saliva, mucous, or droppings. It is also possible to get it by breathing in droplets or dust that contain the virus. Rarely, the virus has spread from one person to another. It may also be possible to catch bird flu by eating poultry or eggs that are not well cooked.
Bird flu illness in people can range from mild to severe. Often, the symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu, such as:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Eye redness (or conjunctivitis)
- Difficulty breathing
In some cases, bird flu can cause serious complications and death. As with seasonal flu, some people are at higher risk for serious illness. They include pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and adults 65 and older.
Treatment with antiviral medicines may make the illness less severe. They may also help prevent the flu in people who were exposed to it. There is currently no vaccine available to the public. The government does have a supply of a vaccine for one type of H5N1 bird flu virus and could distribute it if there was an outbreak that spread easily from person to person.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Prevention and Treatment of Avian Influenza A Viruses in People (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Pandemic Flu (Department of Health and Human Services)
- Avian Influenza A Virus Infections in Humans (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Avian Influenza in Birds (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Human Infection with Avian Influenza A(H7N9) Virus -- China (World Health Organization)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Lessons learned from identifying clusters of severe acute respiratory infections with...
- Article: Influenza A(H5N1) Virus Infections in 2 Free-Ranging Black Bears (Ursus americanus),...
- Article: Highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) in marine mammals and seabirds...
- Bird Flu -- see more articles