What You Need to Know About Bird Flu

bird flu

You may have heard recent news reports about bird flu spreading in birds around the world and causing outbreaks in poultry and U.S. dairy cows. While bird flu does not usually spread to humans, there have been a few rare cases of people becoming infected and getting sick.

“There have been outbreaks of bird flu among poultry flocks in Pennsylvania, but there have been no cases of humans becoming infected in the state,” said Steven W. Graeca, DO, a physician with Penn Highlands Internal Medicine in DuBois. “The current public health risk is low, but we are keeping a close eye on the situation.”

What is bird flu?

Avian influenza Type A, also known as bird flu, is a viral infection that usually spreads in birds but can sometimes spread to other animals, including humans. These viruses occur naturally in wild aquatic birds, such as ducks, geese, swans, gulls and others. Domesticated birds, like chickens, turkeys and ducks, can become infected through contact with birds that have the virus or with contaminated surfaces.

How do people become infected with bird flu?

While there are many types of bird flu, the strain called H5N1 is the most common type to cause issues for people. Bird flu in humans has caused illnesses that range from no or mild symptoms to a severe disease that causes death.

Bird flu rarely spreads person-to-person. While there have been a few cases of spread between humans, none have occurred in the U.S. Human infections generally happen when the virus is in the air and gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Can I get the bird flu by consuming eggs, chicken or milk?

“You cannot catch bird flu by eating fully cooked poultry, eggs or pasteurized milk,” said Dr. Graeca. “You can, however, become infected by eating undercooked or raw poultry, raw eggs, raw milk or cheese made from raw-milk sources. Because of this, we advise avoiding these foods.”

What are the symptoms of bird flu?

It usually takes 3 to 5 days for the first symptoms to appear after becoming infected. Symptoms can include:

  • Aching muscles
  • Bleeding from the nose and gums
  • Chest pain
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Sickness
  • Stomach pain
  • Very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery

Prompt treatment with antiviral medicine may prevent complications and reduce the risk of developing severe illness. If you believe you may be infected, get medical help right away.

The CDC advises that people who become sick within 10 days of their exposure should isolate at home away from their household. You should also notify your local or state public health department.

What can I do to prevent bird flu?

The best way to prevent bird flu is to avoid direct contact with wild birds, domesticated poultry and other animals that are infected or suspected to be infected. Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with saliva, mucous, animal feces, raw milk, bedding or anything that may have been in contact by an infected animal.

If you must come into contact with a potentially infected animal, use protective equipment like gloves, an N95 respirator and eye goggles. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes and wash your hands with soap and water after touching birds. Hunters who handle wild birds should dress game birds in the field, wear protective equipment and practice good hygiene.

The physicians at Penn Highlands Healthcare are monitoring the spread of bird flu and are ready to treat any local cases should they occur. To find a provider near you, visit www.phhealthcare.org/findadoc.