H5N1 Avian Influenza

H5N1 avian influenza, also known as ‘bird flu’, is the infectious disease which affects birds, can be spread to people, but is difficult to transmit from person to person. Almost all people with H5N1 infection have had close contact with infected birds or H5N1-contaminated environments. When people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.

Although millions of birds have become infected with the virus since its discovery, in July 2013 the WHO announced a total of 630 confirmed human cases which resulted in the deaths of 375 people since 2003.

Symptoms and possible complications of highly pathogenic H5N1 in people can include:

  • Fever and cough.
  • Acute respiratory distress.
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhoea.

Complications can include:

  • Pneumonia.
  • Respiratory failure.
  • Shock.
  • Altered mental state.
  • Seizures.
  • Failure of multiple organs (e.g. kidney failure).

Incubation Period

The incubation period for H5N1 avian influenza may be longer than that for normal seasonal influenza, which is around two to three days. Current data for H5N1 infection indicate an incubation period ranging from two to eight days – it could be up to 17 days. WHO currently recommends that an incubation period of seven days be used for investigations and the monitoring of patient contacts.

You can’t get infected with these viruses from properly handled and cooked poultry or eggs.

When preparing poultry or eggs:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry or eggs.
  • Clean chopping boards and other utensils with soap and water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure the chicken has reached 75°C in the thickest part of the breast.
  • Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.