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Bird flu questions answered

April 10, 2006

The Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides answers to questions about numerous health topics. The following are questions and answers about bird flu.

What is avian influenza (bird flu)?

Avian influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, severely sick and kill them.

Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and feces.

How do people become infected?

Most cases of bird flu infection in humans have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry, such as domesticated chickens, ducks and turkeys, or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds.

The spread of avian influenza viruses from an ill person to another person has been reported very rarely, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person. During an outbreak of avian influenza among poultry, there is a possible risk to people who have direct or close contact with infected birds or with surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds.

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What are symptoms of bird flu in humans?

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of bird flu depend on which specific virus subtype and strain caused the infection.

Is there a risk of becoming infectedwith bird flu by eating poultry?

There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection for avian influenza viruses. (However, "investigations of human H5N1 cases in Vietnam during 2005 have suggested transmission of H5N1 viruses to at least two persons through consumption of uncooked duck blood," according to a separate statement on the CDC's Web site.)

The U.S. government controls domestic and imported food products, and in 2004 issued a ban on importation of poultry from countries affected by avian influenza viruses, including the H5N1 strain (the strain that is causing bird flu outbreaks in Asia). This ban still is in place.

- Source: Centers for Disease Controland Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov

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