Health and Hygiene: Avian Influenza FAQs
How is avian influenza detected in humans?
Avian influenza cannot be diagnosed by symptoms alone, so a laboratory test is required. Avian influenza is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the nose or throat during the first few days of illness. This swab is then sent to a laboratory, where they will either look for avian influenza virus using a molecular test, or they will try to grow the virus. Growing avian influenza viruses should only be done in laboratories with high levels of protection. If it is late in the illness, it may be difficult to find an avian influenza virus directly using these methods. If this is the case, it may still be possible to diagnose avian influenza by looking for evidence of the body's response to the virus. This is not always an option because it requires two blood specimens (one taken during the first few days of illness and another taken some weeks later), and it can take several weeks to verify the results.
What are the implications of avian influenza to human health?
Two main risks for human health from avian influenza are 1) the risk of direct infection when the virus passes from the infected bird to humans, sometimes resulting in severe disease; and 2) the risk that the virus – if given enough opportunities – will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person.
How is avian influenza in humans treated?
Studies done in laboratories suggest that the prescription medicines approved for human influenza viruses should work in treating avian influenza infection in humans. However, influenza viruses can become resistant to these drugs, so these medications may not always work. Additional studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of these medicines.
Does seasonal influenza vaccine protect against avian influenza infection in people?
No. Seasonal influenza vaccine does not provide protection against avian influenza.
Should I wear a surgical mask to prevent exposure to avian influenza?
Currently, wearing a mask is not recommended for routine use (e.g., in public) for preventing influenza exposure. In the United States, disposable surgical and procedure masks have been widely used in health-care settings to prevent exposure to respiratory infections, but the masks have not been used commonly in community settings, such as schools, businesses, and public gatherings.
Can I get avian influenza from eating or preparing poultry or eggs?
You cannot get avian influenza from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs.
There currently is no scientific evidence that people have been infected with bird flu by eating safely handled and properly cooked poultry or eggs.
Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds. Even if poultry and eggs were to be contaminated with the virus, proper cooking would kill it. In fact, recent studies have shown that the cooking methods that are already recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for poultry and eggs to prevent other infections will destroy influenza viruses as well.
So to stay safe, the advice is the same for protecting against any infection from poultry:
Wash your hands with soap
and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry and eggs.
Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and hot water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.
Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Consumers may wish to cook poultry to a higher temperature for personal preference.
Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.
The U.S. government carefully controls domestic and imported food products, and in 2004 issued a ban on importation of poultry from countries affected by avian influenza viruses, including the H5N1 strain. This ban still is in place. For more information, see USDA's Animal and Animal Product Import.
We have a small flock of chickens. Is it safe to keep them?
Yes. In the United States there is no need at present to remove a flock of chickens because of concerns regarding avian influenza.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors potential infection of poultry and poultry products by avian influenza viruses and other infectious disease agents. For additional information about avian influenza visit pandemicflu.gov.