Questions and Answers on Avian Influenza (“Bird Flu”)

Avian Influenza FAQs

1. What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is a disease of birds that particularly affects domestic poultry such as chickens, turkeys and ducks. All forms of avian influenza are caused by viruses. Some forms of avian influenza have only mild symptoms in birds; some are more serious; and a few cause devastating illness resulting in death for most birds in a flock.

An avian influenza epidemic infecting many poultry flocks in Asia several years ago also infected some people, resulting in 330 human deaths worldwide. This was called highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1. The outbreak was brought under control.

There are two classifications of bird flu – low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Birds who contract LPAI sometimes do not exhibit any symptoms or show mild ones, like ruffled feathers or a decrease in egg production. Birds with HPAI exhibit more severe symptoms such as lack of energy or appetite, lack of coordination, coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions.  HPAI may also cause high morality.

2. Can human beings get “bird flu” from live birds such as chickens?

The risk of humans contracting avian flu is very low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Scientists say bird flu is not easily transmitted from birds to humans. 

These are obvious risk factors for the transmission of the virus from live birds to people. Unless human beings are directly exposed to blood or excrement of infected poultry, avian influenza is a disease of birds, not humans.

3. Do other birds get avian influenza?

Some other species of birds are known to pick up avian influenza from poultry. In the case of H5N1, the disease is so severe that the other birds will often die before they spread it over a wide region. In the 2004-2006 outbreaks in Southeast Asia, some people thought the Asian form of avian influenza could be carried to the United States by wild birds flying from Siberia to Alaska. This did not happen.

4. If a person gets “bird flu,” can he or she give it easily to other human beings?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “sustained transmission” of avian influenza from human to human has NOT occurred. Despite the fact that millions of birds got sick and died in the middle of human populations in Southeast Asia in 2004-2006, “sustained transmission” did not occur. The disease had plenty of opportunities to become a serious human disease.

5. What is the status of HPAI incidents in the United States?

There are currently no reported cases of HPAI in commercial chicken flocks in the United States.

6. What are chicken producers doing to prevent avian influenza?

Avian flu is a serious issue that chicken farmers closely monitor together with the USDA and poultry industry. The U.S. has the most robust monitoring and surveillance programs in the world – and detailed plans in place to control spreading among flocks and eliminate the virus completely. All U.S. flocks are tested year-round for avian influenza, and if a single bird in a flock were to test positive for avian flu, then none of those birds would be allowed to enter the food supply. 

Farmers, the USDA and the poultry industry as a whole continue to monitor for the virus closely, and have increased surveillance and biosecurity measures to keep flocks protected. Good biosecurity practices on the farm are key to preventing avian influenza from infecting the birds. 

The following biosecurity measures are the most important to prevent disease spread and promote flock health:

  • Limiting visitors on the farm and minimizing foot traffic;
  • Avoiding contact with wild and domestic fowl; 
  • Avoiding the sharing of farm equipment; 
  • Having a clean and functioning footbath at each entrance to the broiler house; 
  • Ensuring that all visitors or personnel have disinfected or new footwear before entering a house or facility;
  • Making sure feed and water sources are covered and free of contaminants, limiting the attraction of wild fowl and pests; 
  • Having official signage clearly stating the farm is a biosecure zone and any unauthorized entry is strictly prohibited; 
  • Employing effective pest and wild bird management practices; and 
  • Adequately training farmers, farm and company personnel in biosecurity and disease prevention.
See biosecurity practices in action and learn how farmers monitor the health of the chicken flock.

7. What happens if there is an outbreak of avian Influenza on a chicken farm?

In the event of an outbreak, the poultry industry has strict procedures in line with state and federal organizations to identify the problem and reduce the spread of the disease. When avian flu is detected, the following five-step response plan is carried out: 

  1. Quarantine 
    First, the farmer ensures that the affected flock stays put in one area, along with any equipment that has been near the birds. 
  2. Eradicate 
    The affected flock is then quickly and humanely euthanized. 
  3. Monitor Region 
    At the same time, both wild and domestic birds in a broad surrounding “control” area are tested and monitored for avian influenza. 
  4. Disinfect The farm where the flock was housed is then thoroughly disinfected to ensure any traces of the virus is killed. 
  5. Test Last, the entire poultry farm is carefully tested for 21 days to confirm it is free of bird flu before allowing a new flock of birds to arrive.
No birds from HPAI-infected flocks are ever allowed to enter the food chain.

8. Are poultry products inspected?

 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors check flocks of chickens and turkey before they are processed for food, and every animal is inspected after slaughter to ensure that it is wholesome and properly labeled. Animals showing any signs of disease are rejected.

9. What can I do at home to make sure my chicken is safe from avian influenza?

Avian flu is not a foodborne illness, which means you cannot contract it from eating poultry that has been cooked properly. And in the event a flock does test positive, it will not enter the food chain.

But as always, you should follow proper handling and cooking when preparing raw chicken. 

As usual, you should continue to take the normal steps to ensure the quality and safety of poultry products – chicken, turkey, and eggs.

  • Keep the product refrigerated or frozen until ready to cook. 
  • Thaw in refrigerator or microwave. 
  • Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods. 
  • Wash working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils and hands after touching raw meat or poultry.
  • Cook thoroughly. 
  • Keep hot foods hot. 
  • Refrigerate leftovers immediately or discard.
Minimum cooking temperature: 

Poultry is safe when it is cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It is best to use a thermometer to make sure this temperature is reached. 

While poultry is safe at 165 degrees F, it may be necessary to cook it to a higher temperature to reach a satisfactory level of “doneness.” 

The following chart provides the temperature to which your food is not only safe, but is the best quality:

  • Chicken, Turkey White Meat: 170 degrees F 
  • Chicken, Turkey Dark Meat: 180 degrees F 
  • Ground Chicken, Turkey: 165 degrees

Learn More About the National Chicken Council