Avian Influenza

What is avian influenza?

Three subtypes of avian influenza A viruses are known to infect people: H5, H7 and H9 viruses. Among these, Asian-lineage H5N1 and H7N9 have caused the majority of human infections.

Asian highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus occurs mainly in birds and is quickly and easily spread in avian populations. HPAI Asian H5N1 is especially pathogenic for poultry. The virus was first detected in 1996 in geese in China.

Human infections with an Asian-lineage avian influenza A (H7N9) virus (“Asian H7N9”) were first reported in China in March 2013. Annual epidemics of human infection with Asian H7N9 viruses in China have been reported since that time.

How do you get avian influenza?

Infected birds shed avian influenza virus in their saliva, mucous, and feces. Human infections with avian flu virus can occur when a person’s eyes, nose or mouth is exposed to the virus, or airborne droplets containing the virus are inhaled. Human infections with avian viruses rarely occur, most often after unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated with avian influenza viruses. However, some infections have been identified where direct contact was not known to have occurred.

What are the symptoms of avian influenza? 

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to conjunctivitis (pink-eye), pneumonia, severe respiratory disease, and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of avian influenza can vary depending on the specific virus strain.

What can I do to protect myself?

Currently, the best way to prevent infection with avian influenza A viruses is to avoid sources of exposure whenever possible. People who work with poultry or who respond to avian influenza outbreaks are advised to follow recommended biosecurity and infection control practices; these include use of appropriate personal protective equipment and careful attention to hand hygiene.

Current Situation

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk of an outbreak in this country from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 or H7 virus in wild birds or poultry to be low.
  • Starting in 2016 through early 2017, there were outbreaks of HPAI H5N8 virus in domestic poultry and wild birds in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa.
  • During March 2017, outbreaks of avian influenza (H7N9) amongst poultry were reported in Tennessee. No human infections were identified.