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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Are the Symptoms of Bird Flu?

There is a range of symptoms of avian influenza in humans. These can include flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches), severe respiratory distress (pneumonia or difficulty breathing), and eye infections.

2. Are There Treatments Available for Bird Flu?

The CDC and World Health Organization recommend the prescription antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) for treating and preventing human infections with the bird flu virus. Another drug, zanamivir (Relenza) can also reduce severity and duration of human influenza, and may be an option for treatment of bird flu. However, antiviral resistance has occurred in some bird flu viruses, and monitoring of these events by government agencies is critical and ongoing.

3. I Got the Flu Vaccine This Year. Am I Protected?

No. The flu vaccine is specific for the human influenza virus, which changes yearly. Bird flu is caused by a related virus that is specific for birds, however transmission to other species including humans has occurred

4. What Is H5N1?

All influenza viruses are named according to two surface molecules: hemagglutinin (HA or H) and neuraminidase (NA or N). H5N1 is the highly pathogenic form of the bird flu that has caused recent outbreaks in birds in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Near East. H5N1 has caused infections of more than 100 million birds. H5N1 usually does not infect people, but since 2003, almost 400 cases of human infection have been reported.

5. If Bird Flu Is Rare, Why Care?

Health authorities are concerned about the risk of a pandemic (or worldwide epidemic). If the bird flu virus mutates to improve its transmission to humans, it could become a very deadly problem.

The WHO is concerned for several reasons. The virus has been rapidly mutating to a degree that domestic ducks act as a “silent reservoir,” excreting the virus without showing disease. Researchers have shown that in recent years, the virus has evolved to infect more mammals, to become more lethal, causing unusually high rates of deaths in migratory birds, and to survive longer in the environment than previously reported.

6. What kinds of wild birds primarily carry avian influenza?
  • Most avian influenza viruses have been isolated from wild waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and shorebirds (wading birds), gulls, and terns.
  • With rare exceptions, the thousands of flu isolates found in wild birds have been low pathogenic avian influenza and have rarely caused signs of illness.
  • In shorebirds, infection rates are highest during the spring migration, although in comparison with waterfowl, their infection rates are much lower.
7. Are migratory birds carrying the virus from one country to another?

The role of migratory birds in the transfer of the Asian H5N1 strain is not clear. H5N1 has been identified in an increasing number of wild birds. The pattern and timing of several outbreaks have not coincided with periods of major migratory movements or migratory routes. However, there are also reports of wild bird mortality that are associated with outbreaks of HPAI H5N1 in poultry. It is not known if wild birds were the source of the virus or acquired the virus from poultry; although, once infected they could be a potential source of infection for domestic poultry that are not isolated from wild birds.

8. Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?
  • While currently there are unconfirmed reports of people being infected with H5N1 from dead wild birds, exposure to domestic and wild birds potentially infected with H5N1 should be avoided.
  • The only documented cases of transmission to humans are from poultry; these cases include both highly pathogenic and low pathogenic strains of avian influenza.
  • At the present time, close contact with infected domestic poultry has been the primary way that people have become infected with the HPAI H5N1 virus.
9. What can we do to protect ourselves?
  • As a general rule, people should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects people from possible exposure to diseases and minimizes disturbance to the animal.
  • Avoid touching wildlife. If there is contact with wildlife, do not rub eyes, eat, drink, or smoke. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Do not pick up diseased or dead wildlife.
  • Contact your state, tribal, or federal natural resource agency if you find a sick or dead animal.
  • For other protection advice unrelated to wildlife.
10. What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis (or porous bone) is a disease in which bone loss occurs, so bones become weak and are more likely to break. Without prevention or treatment, osteoporosis can progress without pain or symptoms until a bone breaks (fractures). Fractures commonly occur in the hip, spine, ribs, and wrist.