Bird Flu (Avian Influenza)

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 12 April 2021

Table of Contents:

  1. What Is Bird Flu?
  2. How Do Humans Get Bird Flu?
  3. Has Bird Flu Been Seen in the U.S.?
  4. What Are the Symptoms of Bird Flu in People?
  5. Is There a Bird Flu Vaccine?
  6. Is There a Treatment for Bird Flu?


What Is Bird Flu?

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a contagious virus that spreads from bird to bird. The H5N1 strain is the most common form of bird flu. It mostly affects birds and does not spread easily among humans, but there was a significant outbreak of bird flu in humans in 2014. The few instances of human-to-human transmission occurred between individuals who had extremely close contact, such as a mother who contracted the virus while caring for their sick child.

Bird flu viruses are naturally transmitted by migrating waterfowl, most notably wild ducks. Infection is thought to spread from wildfowl to domestic poultry.

How Do Humans Get Bird Flu?

Bird flu is spread by close contact with birds or bird droppings.

During the 2014 outbreak, several people were infected with H5N1 after cleaning or plucking infected birds. In China, there have been cases of infection from inhaling aerosolized materials in live bird markets. It's also likely that some people were sick after swimming or bathing in water tainted with infected bird droppings. Infections have also been recorded in people who work with fighting cocks.

People do not get infected by consuming fully cooked chicken or eggs.

There have been a few reports of one infected person catching the bird flu virus from another, but only after close personal contact.

In 2006, bird flu infected eight members of one family in Indonesia. Seven of them were dead. It's not clear how this occurred. Family members are likely to have had similar encounters with infected birds. They may have also shared genes that made them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Casual touch, on the other hand, does not seem to be involved.

Has Bird Flu Been Seen in the U.S.?

Various strains of bird flu appear in poultry in the United States on a regular basis. When this occurs, all affected poultry flocks are slaughtered.

For instance, in 2004, a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was discovered in a Texas chicken flock. The H5N2 virus was the source of the outbreak (not the H5N1 bird flu). The epidemic was declared over in April 2004. There were no human diseases discovered.

What Are the Symptoms of Bird Flu in People?

Individuals can exhibit a variety of bird flu symptoms. It may begin with typical flu-like symptoms. Normally, this can deteriorate into a serious respiratory condition that is fatal.

In February 2005, researchers in Vietnam confirmed two human cases of bird flu, in which the virus affected two children's brains and digestive tracts. Both perished. These cases demonstrate that human cases of bird flu do not always present as usual flu cases.

Is There a Bird Flu Vaccine?

Yes. In 2007, the FDA approved the first vaccine to protect humans from infection with one form of bird flu. However, it has not been commercially distributed to the general public. The US government purchased the vaccine in case public health officials were required to distribute it.

Is There a Treatment for Bird Flu?

The flu medications oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza) can aid in the treatment of bird flu in humans, although additional research is necessary. These medications must be taken promptly at the appearance of symptoms.


Referenced on 2.3.2021

  2. CDC.
  3. World Health Organization.
  4. National Institutes of Health.
  5. Center for Biosecurity of UPMC.
  6. Van Kerkhove, MD, PLoS One, January 2011.
  7. New Scientist.
  8. AAAS (

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