H5n1 Avian Flu Risks

Because the symptoms of avian influenza are similar to those of the common flu, it’s often difficult to distinguish the two. To diagnose the bird flu, your doctor will likely ask you questions about your exposure to certain risk factors. This will help to determine whether you’ve been exposed to the disease. Additionally, being aware of these risks factors can help you to avoid them and stay disease-free.

Avian flu risks include:

  • Coming into contact with an infected person
  • Handling infected birds
  • Spending time on a farm or at a farmer’s market outside the United States.

If you’re worried about bird flu, you’ll want to understand the risks associated with the disease, so you can take steps to stay healthy and, if necessary, have the condition diagnosed and treated early.

Risk #1: Contact with Infected People or Birds

Most people who have died from the bird flu came in direct contact either with a sick bird or an infected bird’s feces. However, some people may come in contact with a sick bird without knowing about it. Simply touching a surface where an infected bird was present is enough to spread the avian influenza virus.

Passing the bird flu from person to person is a rare occurrence, and this has only happened in areas where sick birds are handled incorrectly. Flu risk increases when sick farm birds are allowed to enter areas where humans live and play.

Risk #2: Contact with Contaminated Poultry

Because the bird flu is not a food borne illness, eating cooked poultry (even in the off-chance that it’s infected) cannot cause an avian influenza infection. Still, poultry must be handled properly and cooked thoroughly before it can be consumed.

Raw poultry should not be cross-contaminated with any other food, and any surface that is used to prepare poultry should be thoroughly cleaned before and after preparation. Likewise, all poultry should be cooked thoroughly.

Though unlikely, it is possible to contract bird flu by coming into contact with infected, uncooked poultry. This may occur if poultry isn’t thoroughly cleaned and/or contains traces of contaminated feces or secretions.

Other Risk Factors

While avian flu can infect anyone that comes in contact with the disease, H5N1 seems to infect older people and children more than others. Researchers have found that children in remote areas that play near farm birds are at heightened risk. In general, the elderly are more susceptible to the disease due to their weakened immune systems.

Everyone should be aware of avian flu risks in order to avoid contracting this illness. By staying away from sick poultry and treating all raw poultry properly, the strain of the avian flu virus that has affected people in the past can be largely avoided.


BBC News Staff. (2006). Bird flu’s risk to biodiversity. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the BBC Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4920546.stm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff (CDC) Staff. (2010). Key facts about avian influenza (bird flu) and avian influenza A (H5N1) virus. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the CDC Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/facts.htm.

World Health Organization (WHO) Staff. (2005). Avian influenza: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from the WHO Web site: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/avian_faqs/en/.