H5n1 Avian Flu Myths

The H5N1 virus, also known as the “bird flu,” is a serious disease that has caused a number of deaths over the past decade. However, myths about H5N1 continue to perpetuate as news spreads about the disease. While any virus (H5N1 included) that could cause a worldwide pandemic is certain to incite fear among the population, separating avian flu myths from facts is important, particularly for effective disease prevention.

Some people believe that the virus H5N1 (or the vaccine to prevent it) can cause autism or psychosis. Yet another myth about avian flu is that it can be caused by eating contaminated chicken. To stay healthy, it’s important to separate bird flu facts from myths, and to have the ability to recognize when the threat of disease is real.

Bird Flu Myth #1: The Avian Flu Vaccine is Unsafe

One common avian flu myth is that the bird flu vaccine is unsafe. Some people believe that this vaccine causes other diseases, while others believe that the avian flu vaccine contains dangerous levels of the bird flu.

The reality is that the avian flu vaccine does not contain any dangerous elements. Governments that are offering the bird flu vaccine have tested this medicine and have deemed the contents of the vaccine safe. No conclusive studies have linked the avian flu vaccine to any dangerous diseases or conditions.

Bird Flu Myth #2: You Can Get Avian Flu by Swimming

It’s a common myth that one can contact the bird flu from a swimming pool or by swimming in a lake with birds in it. This is simply not true. To date, there have been no cases of people contracting bird flu from swimming in a pool or pond with infected birds.

Bird Flu Myth #3: Antiviral Drugs Can Prevent Avian Flu

Ingesting antiviral drugs cannot prevent the H5N1 virus, and they should never be taken unless expressly prescribed by a doctor. Once the body becomes used to various antiviral drugs, these drugs will no longer have any affect on a virus (H5N1 included).

Bird Flu Myth #4: You Can Get Avian Flu by Eating Infected Poultry

H5N1 is not a food-borne illness, which means it can’t be caused by ingesting properly cooked poultry — even in the off chance that the poultry in question is infected. Because H5N1 is sensitive to heat, it’s killed off when food is cooked properly.

However, you can contract bird flu by coming into contact with the feces or secretions of an infected bird, which can be present on uncooked poultry that’s not properly cleaned. Poultry products should always be handled carefully, cleaned properly, and thoroughly cooked to decrease the risk of infection.


ABC News Staff. (2006). Bird flu myths and facts. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the ABC News Web site: http://www.abc.net.au/health/features/stories/2006/02/23/1834266.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Staff. (2009). Avian influenza (bird flu). Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the CDC Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/.

World Health Organization (WHO) Staff. (2010). Avian influenza. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the WHO Web site: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/.