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Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

Picture of caged birds Avian Influenza is predominantly a disease in birds. There are several different types of Avian Influenza – also known as Bird Flu – but the one that causes greatest concern is a form called H5N1.

Why H5N1 is a threat

Avian Influenza is largely a disease of birds. The virus does not easily cross from birds to infect humans.

There is a theoretical risk of flu viruses mixing if people with seasonal flu also become infected with avian flu.

This could cause a flu pandemic - if an influenza virus turns into a new strain that can spread easily between humans, and to which they do not have immunity.

The risk of a person catching bird flu is extremely low.

Travel to affected countries

The World Health Organisation (WHO) doesn't currently recommend any restrictions on travel to any country experiencing outbreaks of bird flu.

However, if you are visiting countries with reported outbreaks of H5N1 bird flu in poultry, you should observe the following measures:

  • do not visit bird or poultry farms or markets
  • avoid close contact with live or dead poultry
  • do not eat raw or poorly-cooked poultry
  • do not eat raw or poorly-cooked poultry products, including blood
  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • do not attempt to bring any live birds or poultry products back to the UK
  • Foreign travel advice (Gov.UK website)

Recognising symptoms

The symptoms of bird flu in humans are similar to ordinary flu symptoms and can appear suddenly. They may include:

  • a fever (temperature of 380C or more)
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • a sore throat
  • sore eyes
  • muscle aches

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is highly unlikely that you have bird flu unless you have had close contact with live or dead poultry in an affected country.

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