Frequently Asked Questions about Avian Influenza
Wild birds that carry bird flu viruses include waterbirds, like ducks, geese and swans, and shorebirds, like storks. Bird flu viruses can easily spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys. Some wild birds can carry bird flu viruses without appearing sick, but poultry, like chickens and turkeys, can get very sick and die from bird flu. If you raise backyard poultry or ducks, your birds can get bird flu if they have contact with infected wild birds or share food, sources of water, and environments with them. Most common songbirds or other birds found in the yard, like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows or pigeons, do not usually carry bird flu viruses that are dangerous to poultry or people.
Human infections with bird flu viruses are rare but can occur, usually after close contact with infected birds. The current risk to the general public from bird flu viruses is low; however, it is important to remember that risk depends on exposure, and people with more exposure might have a greater risk of infection. There is existing federal guidance around bird flu exposures for different groups of people, including people with occupational or recreational exposure, such as hunters pdf icon[297 KB, 2 pages]external icon and poultry producersexternal icon, and also for the general public, as well as health care providers.
As a general precaution, people should avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance, if possible. Wild birds can be infected with bird flu viruses without appearing sick. If possible, avoid contact with poultry that appear ill or have died. Avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds, if possible. CDC has information about precautions to take with wild birds. As a reminder, it is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry and poultry products in the United States. The proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including H5N1 bird flu viruses.
CDC has guidance for specific groups of people with exposure to poultry, including poultry workers and people responding to poultry outbreaks. If you must handle wild birds or sick or dead poultry, minimize direct contact by wearing gloves and wash your hands with soap and water after touching birds. If available, wear respiratory protection such as a medical facemask. Change your clothing before contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds after handling wild birds, and discard the gloves and facemask, and then wash your hands with soap and water. Additional information is available at Information for People Exposed to Birds Infected with Avian Influenza Viruses of Public Health Concern.
Right now, the H5N1 bird flu situation is primarily an animal health issue. The U.S. Department of Interior and USDA APHIS are the lead federal agencies for this situation. They are respectively responsible for outbreak investigation and control of bird flu in wild birds and in domestic poultry. CDC is the lead federal agency on the human health side.
Because flu viruses are constantly changing, CDC is monitoring these viruses to look for genetic changes suggesting they might spread more easily to and between people, and cause serious illness in people, or for changes that suggest reduced susceptibility to antivirals, as well as changes in the virus that might mean a new vaccine virus should be developed.
CDC has been monitoring for illness among people exposed to H5N1 virus-infected birds in the U.S. since these outbreaks were detected in U.S. wild birds and poultry in late 2021 and into 2022.
One human case of avian influenza A (H5N1) has been reported in the United States in a person involved in culling (depopulating) of H5N1 virus-infected poultry. This one H5N1-positive human case does not change the human health risk assessment for the general public, which CDC considers to be low. CDC will continue to watch this situation closely for signs that the risk to human health has changed. Signals that could raise the public health risk might include multiple reports of H5N1 virus infections in people from exposure to birds, or identification of spread from one infected person to a close contact. CDC also is monitoring H5N1 viruses for genetic changes that have been associated with adaptation to mammals, which could indicate the virus is adapting to spread more readily from birds to people.