Health Care Public Health

Precautions to Take During a Bird Flu Outbreak

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You may have seen bird flu in the news in the last few years. And more recently, reports of the latest strain (the H5N1 avian flu virus) causing outbreaks among poultry across the United States. Here’s what you need to know about precautions to take during a bird flu outbreak to safeguard your family.

Understanding Bird Flu

Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a virus that spreads among wild aquatic birds, like ducks, geese and swans, worldwide. They also can infect domestic poultry, including chicken and turkeys, and other animals, such as dairy cattle.

Birds transmit the disease to other birds and animals, most commonly through their saliva, mucus and feces. Transmission can also happen when birds and animals touch surfaces contaminated with the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bird flu viruses don’t typically infect humans. Still, some rare cases have been reported in people with close, prolonged contact with infected birds. It’s also very unusual for people to transmit the virus to other people. Most of these cases have come from family members with close contact or in a hospital setting with unprotected exposure.

Though the H5N1 virus in poultry and cattle can seem concerning, the CDC says the current risk to the public is low. And of course, you can check their website for updates, and they will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Protecting Yourself

The risk of contracting bird flu is low, but there are some precautions you can take. The CDC recommends the following:

Avoid Exposure

Avoiding direct contact with wild birds or sick or dead poultry is the best protection. Observe them from a distance and don’t touch surfaces that may be contaminated with their bodily fluids, like ponds, buckets or troughs.

Carefully Prepare Foods

Cook poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165° F to kill viruses and bacteria before eating. Additionally, beef and beef products need to be thoroughly cooked as well. You can safely eat whole cuts of beef at 145° F and hamburger and other ground beef at 160° F.

Don’t drink raw milk or products made with raw milk. It is safe to consume pasteurized milk.

Get a Flu Vaccine

A seasonal flu vaccination won’t prevent infection from avian influenza viruses, but it can reduce the risk of getting sick with both the human and bird flu viruses simultaneously.

Report Sick or Dead Animals

If you find a dead or potentially sick wild bird — or any other animal — don’t touch it. Call your state health department or state wildlife agency to report it.

Travel Safely

Currently, the CDC doesn’t recommend limiting travel to any countries due to bird influenza. However, if you travel to a place where there is an outbreak, avoid visiting poultry farms or bird markets and eating raw or undercooked poultry products.

Wear Personal Protective Equipment for Close Contact

People who work with birds or farm animals, hunt or have a domestic flock should protect themselves when in contact with dead or potentially sick animals. This includes workers or volunteers at bird rehabilitation centers, bird and animal sanctuaries, poultry farms and dairy farms.

Medical experts suggest that you:

  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes after contact with birds or the surfaces they’ve touched
  • Change your clothes before having contact with healthy domestic poultry or after handling sick or dead animals
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling birds
  • Wear protective equipment like gloves, an N95 mask or surgical mask and goggles

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Signs of bird flu virus infections in humans range considerably. Some people have no symptoms or experience only mild ones like a runny nose, sore throat, headache and muscle aches. Others may experience more severe symptoms, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever over 100° F
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath

If you were exposed to bird flu or think you may have the bird flu virus, it’s important to see your doctor right away. They may swab your nose or mouth and conduct a lab test to check your condition.

If you have been exposed to bird flu but don’t have symptoms yet, your doctor can give you an antiviral medicine to decrease your likelihood of getting sick.

This antiviral medicine also helps reduce the risk of severe illness if diagnosed with avian influenza. You may have to stay home from work or school until you no longer have the infection.

Get Answers to Your Questions About Bird Flu

If you think you or a loved one might have come in contact with the bird flu virus, or if you have questions about bird flu, contact your doctor or visit your local AdventHealth Centra Care urgent care center.

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