Avian Influenza or Bird Flu

This page contains information about avian influenza, also known as bird flu. The Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) outbreak in China - (H7N9) web page provides important information for general practitioners, clinicians and laboratories.

Page last updated: 18 August 2015

What is avian influenza

There are many types of influenza viruses that usually only infect birds; these are called avian influenza viruses. Very rarely, an avian influenza virus can also infect people. Some avian influenza viruses, such as H5N1 or H7N9, have been associated with human disease.

Avian influenza in Humans

What are the symptoms? How soon do symptoms start? How long does it last?

The most common symptoms for people infected with an avian influenza virus are similar to those for people infected with human influenza virus, although the severity of the illness may differ. Symptoms generally appear two to eight days after exposure and can last up to seven days. People with avian influenza are infectious for at least seven (7) days (children are infectious for up to 21 days).

Although some avian influenza viruses can cause severe and fatal infections in humans, the actual number of human cases around the world has been small relative to the number of outbreaks in birds. Almost all human cases have had direct or indirect exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments.

There has been no evidence that current avian influenza viruses have changed into a form that can pass efficiently from human to human. This is a crucial change that would be required before an avian influenza virus could start a new human influenza pandemic.

The Australian Government closely monitors the avian influenza activity in countries affected by avian influenza viruses and maintains close contact with international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

What measures are in place to prevent avian influenza in Australia?

To date, there have been no reports of avian influenza in people in Australia and the Australian Government has many measures in place to prevent the emergence of avian influenza in Australia. It is very unlikely that anyone entering Australia with avian influenza will pass the disease to another person.

People who have arrived from overseas or travelled to countries where there are reports of avian influenza in birds or people should monitor their health carefully for seven (7) days (for other severe respiratory diseases this period of monitoring may be longer). They should immediately contact a doctor if they feel unwell with fever or flu-like symptoms and they should inform the doctor about their travels.

Why are health authorities worried about avian influenza?

The World Health Organization is worried that an avian influenza virus and a human influenza virus might mix and result in a new strain of influenza virus that can be easily passed from person to person. This might trigger an “influenza pandemic”, where the disease spreads rapidly around the world, infecting many people.

Travel information

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are not currently advising against travel to any of the countries affected by avian influenza.

Australians travelling to areas affected by avian influenza can reduce their risk of infection by:

  • avoiding situations where they may come into contact with infected birds, including live bird markets;
  • ensuring all uncooked poultry and eggs are handled hygienically with careful attention to hand washing after handling;
  • ensuring all poultry and eggs are cooked thoroughly before eating (proper cooking destroys the virus in poultry and eggs).

Should you become unwell with influenza-like symptoms, such as fever or cough, during or after your travels, contact a doctor and inform the doctor of your recent travels.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website contains a range of international travel-related advisories and bulletins.

Do you need more information on health aspects of avian influenza?

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health web site.

Call the Department of Health Information Hotline 1800 004 599 (8:30 am to 5pm Monday to Friday, recorded message at all other times).

Further information on avian influenza infections in humans is available from the WHO website.

Avian influenza in birds

The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website includes information on avian influenza in birds, as well as updates on global outbreaks and information on bird biosecurity.

All suspected outbreaks of avian influenza in Australia should be reported to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline: 1800 675 888 (freecall from within Australia).