Bird Flu, also known as Avian Influenza A, has been found to cause viral outbreaks across the globe. Abbreviated as H5N1, this type of virus is the most common cause of flu in birds. It is a very deadly virus in birds but is rarely seen in humans, especially in North America.
This disease has recently come to public attention due to a recent case where an individual tested positive for avian influenza A. However, according to the CDC, this case does not change the risk of human infection. Risks of transmission are incredibly low, especially in humans, but it is important to understand the best ways to be safe.
What are the symptoms of Bird Flu?
Bird flu can present in a range of severities. Some individuals can be asymptomatic or have a mild illness, whereas others might develop serious complications. However, symptoms will generally resemble typical flu symptoms and include:
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and diarrhea (less common)
- Muscle aching
Although avian influenza is very rare, if infected, this virus can result in numerous complications. Similar to Covid-19, this virus can lead to more severe respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress (ARDs). Additionally, avian flu can lead to sepsis or infection of your bloodstream that can cause damage to your other organs, including your heart and kidneys.
Symptoms of Covid-19 v.s Bird Flu
Covid-19 symptoms can very closely resemble bird flu symptoms. With the ongoing pandemic, it is important to understand the unique characteristics of each virus to be able to differentiate and treat each infection properly. The table below explains the important differences between Covid-19 and bird flu.
Covid-19 vs. Bird Flu Explained
- Person to person
- Airborne transmission
- Droplet transmission
- Bird to human
- Contact with infected bird feces or secretions
**Person to person transmission is very rare**
|Onset and Duration||Symptoms can present 2-14 days after exposure. Average is 4-5 days.||Symptoms can present 2-17 days after exposure. Average is 2-5 days.|
Loss of taste or smell
Fever or chills
Bleeding from nose or gums
Rapid antigen tests
- Ritonavir + Nirmaltrelvir (Paxlovid)
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
- Zanamivir (Relenza)
- Peramivir (Rapivab)
How is Bird Flu Transmitted?
Bird flu is very rarely transmitted from person-to-person. Since the first human bird flu infection in 1997, there have only been around ten sporadic instances of documented person-to-person transmissions of bird flu. In most cases of human infections of bird flu, transmission has occurred from animal to human via contact with feces or secretions.
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Risk Factors for Bird Flu
Most individuals have an incredibly low chance of being infected with bird flu. However, certain individuals who have close contact with infected birds or intermediate hosts, such as other animals, are at the highest risk for contracting bird flu.
The following individuals are at the highest risk for contact with infected birds or humans:
- Poultry farmers are at the highest risk of contracting bird flu due to close contact with bird droppings, bedding, or exposure to raw prey poultry. The primary method of transmission in poultry farms is the contamination of equipment by infected bird secretions or droppings. Humans can also act as a vehicle of transmission, as the virus can contaminate clothes and shoes. As such, it is important to limit visitation to poultry farms, avoid contact with wild or possibly infected birds, and keep other animals outside of poultry farms.
- Travelers who have exposure to open markets where live birds may be sold can also drastically increase the risk of infection. Additionally, individuals who consistently consume undercooked poultry or eggs may also be at a higher risk of contracting avian influenza. Poultry and eggs that are fully cooked have no possibility of transmission.
How can I Prevent and Treat Bird Flu?
Unlike Covid-19, there is no vaccine for the bird flu. Additionally, your seasonal flu or Covid-19 vaccine will not increase your protection against this virus. However, as previously mentioned, your chances of infection with avian influenza are very low unless you fall into one of the aforementioned risk factor categories. In light of recent cases of bird flu in a chicken flock in Wisconsin, the U.S is currently developing bird flu vaccines to prevent future outbreaks.
Regardless of your susceptibility to this disease, there are several preventative measures that you can take against bird flu infection.
- If you are traveling in foreign countries that have had previous bird flu outbreaks, make sure to avoid visiting poultry farms, live bird markets, or other places where you might be exposed to bird droppings or raw poultry.
- Always practice good hygiene, especially when coming in contact with raw or undercooked poultry.
- If you find yourself with flu-like symptoms after traveling, visit your primary care physician as soon as possible to start antiviral treatment. Antiviral treatment is most effective when initiated early, so you must visit your doctor as quickly as possible.
- If you find a dead bird anywhere, avoid touching it with your bare hands and check with your state government for guidelines about reporting dead wildlife.
Bird Flu Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Although bird flu is rare in comparison to the flu or Covid-19, it is still important to understand the appropriate actions and precautions to take.
Where should I report suspected cases of avian flu (bird flu)?
You must report all cases of birds or humans with the avian flu to the state or federal government. These viruses can affect domestic and wild birds, who can then continue to spread the virus via saliva, secretions, and feces.
Warning signs of bird flu include sudden and unexpected death or diarrhea, purple discoloration, and swelling of body parts. If you notice these signs in domestic or wild birds, do not touch the bird with your bare hands and contact authorities as soon as possible. To report these cases to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you can call 1-866-536-7593.
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Should I be concerned about the bird flu outbreak?
According to the CDC, the risk of bird flu outbreaks and transmission to humans is low. Most infected individuals have acquired bird flu from direct contact with infected bird secretions or contaminated surfaces. However, it is always good to take the appropriate precautions and maintain good hygiene.
Can you catch bird flu from eating chicken?
According to the USDA, there is currently no evidence to indicate that bird flu can be transmitted through contaminated chicken as long as it is appropriately cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA sites four basic food safety guidelines to follow when preparing food for consumption:
Even with the most recent case of avian flu in the U.S., bird flu transmission from poultry is very unlikely, and it is safe to continue eating poultry and eggs as long as they are being properly handled.
Ultimately, avian flu shares similar characteristics with Covid-19, especially in terms of symptoms. Due to its low prevalence and low possibility of transmission, it is unlikely that you will catch avian flu. However, it is still important to recognize the risk factors of bird flu and to always report any sick or possibly infected birds to your local state and federal government.
For just $25 a month, Mira can provide you with access to affordable primary care visits, urgent care visits, and laboratory testing. If experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important that you visit your primary care physician and prevent transmission of illnesses by social distancing, wearing a mask, and quarantining if possible. Check out Mira and start saving today.
Sophie is a 2024 Pharm D. candidate studying pharmacy at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She has a passion for healthcare and writing and hopes to make meaningful contributions to healthcare transparency and accessibility. In her free time, she likes to take care of her houseplants, cook, and hang out with her cat.