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Avian Influenza FAQ

Questions and Answers About Avian Flu

magnified image of avian influenza virusFollowing are typical questions that Oregon Health Authority receives about Avian Flu and answers to those questions.

What is Avian Flu?

Avian flu is a type of influenza that occurs naturally among wild birds. A few of these strains have caused severe disease in poultry. One such strain, an influenza A H5N1 virus, has caused outbreaks in poultry and sporadic cases in humans throughout southeast Asia since 1997.

Is avian flu a threat to humans?

There have been approximately 135 reports of humans who have contracted avian flu from direct contact with infected domesticated birds. Of those persons infected, about half have died. Currently, avian flu is rarely—if ever—transmitted from person to person; however, if the virus changes to become easily transmissible between people, a pandemic could occur because humans lack immunity to H5N1 influenza.

Is it safe to eat poultry?

H5N1 has not been detected in the United States and our country bans imports of poultry from areas that have been affected with H5N1. Moreover, influenza virus is destroyed by heat, so normal cooking (food temperature of 160º F or higher) will kill the virus.

What are the symptoms of human avian flu?

The symptoms are generally similar to those caused by other influenza viruses, such as fever, sore throat, cough, and extreme fatigue. Sometimes the symptoms can be more severe, however, and may include severe respiratory distress secondary to pneumonia. In addition, some child victims have had diarrhea and coma.

What is government doing to prepare for avian flu?

Federal and state agricultural agencies are conducting ongoing poultry surveillance and plans are in place for how to contain the disease if it were detected. Those plans include disposal of dead birds and protecting workers. Federal and state wildlife agencies have begun surveillance for H5N1 in migratory birds in some areas of the US and are in the process of expanding this to more areas.

Is the Oregon medical community prepared for avian flu?

The infectious disease and infection control communities at Oregon hospitals are informed, and educational efforts for other clinicians are on-going.

Is there a vaccine against avian flu?

Vaccine for H5N1 in poultry is not used in the United States. The best way to control the spread of disease in poultry is to euthanize and properly dispose of affected flocks. State and federal agriculture agencies have plans in place to address this issue, should it occur.

Clinical trials for human avian influenza H5N1 vaccine are currently underway. Preliminary results indicate that two 90-µg doses of the H5N1 candidate vaccine generated the highest immune response, but the vaccine is not yet available. A full report from the first of several clinical trials is expected to be available in 2006.

What are the treatment protocols for people who have avian flu?

There is no specific cure for H5N1 avian influenza in people, and the mortality rate is high. Patients with suspected or proven H5N1 receive supportive care in the hospital in a manner that protects other patients, visitors and hospital staff from becoming infected. If human cases were to occur in the US, patients with H5N1 would likely receive influenza antiviral medications to lessen the severity of the disease in addition to receiving comprehensive medical care.

If there's no vaccine, what can I do to protect myself?

Currently, the Asian strain of H5N1 influenza is not present in North America. People should take standard precautions to protect themselves from illness by practicing good personal hygiene and health habits.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not currently recommend that the public avoid travel to countries affected by H5N1. However, during travel to an affected area, you should avoid contact with poultry and any place where live poultry are raised or kept, such as poultry farms and live bird markets.

Will avian influenza cause pandemic influenza?

Concerns about avian influenza are often linked with pandemic influenza because of the potential for this disease to become transmissible in the human population. No one knows if this will happen or, if it does, whether it will evolve into a pandemic. More information on avian influenza and links to avian influenza resources are available on our main avian influenza page.

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