Avian Influenza or Bird Flu

This page contains information about Avian Influenza, also known as bird flu.

Page last updated: 12 April 2013

For information on the current situation, view the Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) outbreak in China - (H7N9) web page.

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.

H5N1 in Humans

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

The exact symptoms, incubation period and duration of avian influenza in people is not known, because there have not been enough cases. The most common symptoms for people infected with the 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 three to seven 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 the H5N1 virus 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 close contact with infected poultry, usually from their own flocks.

There has been no evidence that the H5N1 virus has changed into a form that can pass efficiently from human to human. This is a crucial change that would be required before H5N1 could start a new human influenza pandemic.

The Australian Government is closely monitoring the situation in countries affected by H5N1 bird flu and is maintaining 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. But 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. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website contains a range of international travel-related advisories and bulletins. This includes a Health: Avian Influenza Travel Bulletin prepared in collaboration with the Department of Health and Ageing.
  • Avoiding situations where they may come into contact with farms and live bird markets.
  • Ensuring all uncooked poultry and eggs are handled hygienically, with careful attention to hand washing after handling, and then cooked thoroughly. Proper cooking destroys the virus in poultry and eggs.

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

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health web site: www.health.gov.au Call the Department of Health Information Hotline 1800 004 599 (8:30 am to 5pm Monday to Friday, recorded message at all other times).

H5N1 in birds

Australia

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry monitors avian influenza outbreaks in birds, and continues to report that there is no evidence of H5N1 bird flu in Australia. Avian influenza updates from the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) can be found at the DAFF avian influenza website.

Resources for the poultry industry

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) have an avian influenza website which provides specific information for the poultry industry and bird owners.

All suspected outbreaks of avian influenza in Australia should be reported to the DAFF Animal Outbreak Hotline: 1800 675 888.

Protecting Poultry Workers during Avian Influenza Outbreaks

The Communicable Diseases Network Australia has developed the guidelines for persons working with poultry and other birds at risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza (CDNA, 2008) which provide specific information to protect poultry workers during an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

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