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Bird Flu Outbreak: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

  • Post published:June 19, 2024
  • Post category:Blog


bird flu outbreak

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a topic that occasionally surfaces in the news, often sparking concern and confusion. Understanding what bird flu is, how it spreads, and what you can do to protect yourself is crucial. So, let’s dive into the essentials of bird flu and what you need to know to stay safe.

What is Bird Flu?

Bird flu (avian influenza) is an infection from a type of influenza (flu) virus that usually spreads in birds and other animals. Sometimes, humans can get bird flu from infected animals. Like the versions of flu that people usually get, bird flu can be serious and is much more likely to be deadly. It’s extremely rare for it to spread from person to person.

You might hear about bird flu when there’s an outbreak affecting large numbers of birds or other animals. This is concerning because it increases the risk of human infection, can affect wildlife and can reduce the food supply.

What Are The Types of Bird Flu?

There are many subtypes of avian flu. The most common subtypes that spread to humans are influenza A(H5N1) and influenza A(H7N9). These are named based on types of proteins on the surface of the virus.

How Common is Bird Flu in Humans?

So far, bird flu infections in humans are rare. There have been less than 1,000 known cases worldwide since it was first identified in humans in 1997. There have only been two cases in the U.S.

Where To Get Tested?

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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.

What Causes Bird Flu?

A type of influenza A virus, often H5N1 in humans, causes bird flu. The virus can infect your upper respiratory tract and lungs and even spread to other parts of your body, like your brain.

How Does Bird Flu Spread?

Humans can get bird flu if they come in contact with an infected animal’s body fluid, like spit (saliva), respiratory droplets or poop (feces). You can breathe it in from small dust particles in animal habitats or get it into your eyes, nose or mouth after touching body fluids.

You don’t get bird flu from eating properly cooked poultry or eggs. Any flocks known to have avian flu virus are immediately taken out of the human food supply.

Is Bird Flu Contagious?

Bird flu is very rarely contagious (spread from person to person), but there have been a few cases of spread between humans. None of these happened in the U.S. In almost all cases so far, human bird flu infections have come from contact with infected animals.

What Are The Risk Factors for Bird Flu?

People who work with poultry or waterfowl (like ducks or geese) are at the highest risk for bird flu. You also may be at risk if you work with livestock.

Impact of Bird Flu Outbreaks

Economic Consequences

Bird flu outbreaks can devastate the poultry industry, leading to significant financial losses. The culling of infected and at-risk birds, trade restrictions, and reduced consumer confidence all contribute to economic challenges.

Public Health Impact

Outbreaks also strain public health systems. Hospitals may become overwhelmed with patients, and resources diverted to manage the outbreak can impact other health services. Effective response plans are essential to mitigate these impacts.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek medical attention if you develop symptoms such as high fever, difficulty breathing, or severe cough, especially if you’ve been in contact with birds or visited areas with known outbreaks. Early medical intervention can be lifesaving.


Staying informed about bird flu is essential for public health and safety. By understanding how the virus spreads, recognizing symptoms, and knowing what steps to take for prevention and treatment, we can protect ourselves and our communities. Stay vigilant, practice good hygiene, and rely on trustworthy information sources to stay safe.

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