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Key Facts About Influenza and Avian Influenza

Download the Avian (bird) Flu Brochure

What is avian influenza (bird flu)?
It is an influenza type A virus normally found in wild birds, and does not normally make them sick. When the virus infects domestic poultry, the disease and death rates are very high. There are several different types of viruses in birds, but the current major concern is the H5N1 strain.

Do bird viruses infect humans?
Not normally, but there have been 115 cases confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as of Sept. 22, 2005, resulting in 59 deaths.

What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans? They generally start as typical flu-like symptoms, with fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. They can progress to severe respiratory infections and life threatening complications. The specific symptoms depend on the specific virus that caused the infection.

How does bird flu spread?
Infected birds shed the virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Susceptible birds get the virus after coming in contact with contaminated secretions. It is believed that infections in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.

What is the risk to humans from bird flu?
The risk is generally low to most humans because the viruses occur mainly in birds and do not usually infect humans. The current outbreak of avian influenza in poultry in Asia is an example of an outbreak that has caused human illness and deaths. In these situations, humans should avoid contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces, and be careful when handling and cooking poultry.

Is there a vaccine to protect humans from the H5N1 virus?
There is currently no vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 virus. Vaccine development continues, and several pharmaceutical companies are working vigorously to create one.

What is being done in the United States to address the potential spread of bird flu? Since early 2004, the federal government has restricted the import of poultry from the identified countries with infection. CDC has been working with HHS to develop a federal plan to use in the event the virus changes and creates a pandemic. Several federal agencies are working to create a stockpile of antiviral drugs and to improve capacities. Funding has increased to assist with research, testing, surveillance and purchases as part of the prevention and preparedness activities.

 

General signs and symptoms of typical influenza and avian influenza cases to date.
Typical Influenza:
  • Fever, cough, sore throats
  • Muscle aches
  • General malaise
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Avian Influenza includes typical influenza signs and symptoms, plus:
  • Eye infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe respiratory complications
  • Life threatening complications