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Avian Influenza Q&A Handout

, February 22, 2006 - U.S. Poultry Industry Questions and Answers on Avian Influenza ("Bird Flu")

Q. What is avian influenza?

A. Avian influenza (AI) is a disease of birds that is caused by a virus. It is also known as “bird flu.”

Q. Does avian influenza pose a serious health threat?

A. There are several types of avian influenza. The milder forms, known as Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza or LPAI, are a disease of animals and are not a public health concern. They occur occasionally around the world. The more serious form, known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), is much more severe and results in high mortality in poultry flocks. In a very limited number of cases, it has posed serious health risks (including death) to some humans who have had very close contact with infected birds. The strains of AI with the greatest concern are the H5 and H7 strains, which can change from low pathogenic forms to highly pathogenic forms. The type now occurring in Asia is specifically called H5N1 HPAI. The designation of H5N1 comes from the arrangement of proteins on the surface of the virus that causes the disease.

Q. Can humans contract H5N1 HPAI? How?

A. Unfortunately, yes. A small number of people in foreign countries have developed a human form of the disease, nearly all of them from direct, very close contact with live, infected poultry. Never have any cases of H5N1 HPAI been detected in the U.S.—not in poultry or humans. The influenza virus lives mainly in the respiratory system and internal organs of the bird and is spread through droplets of moisture and other secretions.

Q. What are humans doing in close contact with infected, live birds?

A. Chickens, ducks and other poultry in affected areas are often allowed to run at large in the villages in which people live. Children and other family members tend small flocks of birds to provide eggs and meat. Nearly all of the human cases are associated with these types of “village chickens.”

Q. Can avian influenza be transmitted through human-to-human contact?

A. According to scientific research, the ability to transfer the avian influenza virus through human-tohuman contact is extremely limited if it exists at all. Scientists say that the H5N1 HPAI virus has not developed the ability to pass easily from human to human.

Q. Can you get any type of avian influenza by eating poultry or other poultry products?

A. Studies have shown that the low-pathogenic virus is not found in the meat of infected birds. In all cases, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms that proper handling and cooking of poultry provides protection against any AI virus that may be present. The heat of normal cooking destroys the virus that causes AI. Microorganisms of all kinds are inactivated when the product reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.