Avian influenza virus, its symptoms, prevention, risks and recommendations for travellers.
On this page
- Symptoms of avian influenza
- If you become ill
- Treating avian influenza
- How avian influenza spreads
- Preventing avian influenza
- Who is most at risk
- Recommendations for travellers
- For health care professionals
Symptoms of avian influenza
People usually develop symptoms of avian influenza 1 to 5 days after exposure, though it's sometimes longer. Early symptoms of most strains are similar to seasonal flu.
- aching muscles
- shortness of breath
Other early symptoms associated with the H5N1 strain include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- bleeding gums
- conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes)
Some people infected with avian influenza don’t develop any symptoms.
Depending on the strain, avian influenza can make you seriously ill.
These strains include:
Avian influenza can progress rapidly, leading to:
- severe respiratory illness, which can include:
- difficulty breathing
- acute respiratory distress syndrome (life-threatening lung condition)
- neurological changes, such as changed mental state or seizures
In severe cases, it can lead to multi-organ failure, including kidney and liver dysfunction and heart failure. This can lead to death.
The mortality rate for avian influenza infections is often much higher than seasonal flu infections. It can be higher than 50%.
If you become ill
If you develop symptoms of avian influenza, call a health care provider.
When you make an appointment, tell them:
- your symptoms
- where you have been travelling or living
- if you had direct contact with possibly infected birds or mammals
- if you had close contact with a sick person
The health care provider may provide you with additional guidance to follow during your appointment.
Wear a mask if fever or respiratory symptoms develop.
Treating avian influenza
You can treat avian influenza with antiviral medications. It’s important to take them as early as possible, ideally within 48 hours of getting sick.
- reduce influenza symptoms
- shorten the length of illness
- potentially reduce serious complications
If you have a severe infection, you need to go to the hospital.
How avian influenza spreads
Birds spread avian influenza viruses through their feces, mucus and saliva.
Most human infections occur after close contact with infected birds or highly contaminated environments, such as:
- poultry farms
- live bird or animal markets
Avian influenza virus can be:
- in the air in droplets
- in dust or feathers
- on contaminated surfaces or objects
You can become infected if:
- you inhale the virus when it’s in the air in droplets, or in dust or feathers
- the virus gets into your mouth, nose or eyes
- you touch something that has the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes
Avian influenza viruses can spread easily between birds, but they don’t spread easily to mammals, including humans. There have been rare reports of mammal-to-human transmission of some strains of avian influenza. There have also been some reports of possible limited human-to-human transmission in some parts of the world, but there’s no evidence of ongoing transmission between people.
Avian influenza doesn't spread through eating thoroughly cooked poultry, game meat or eggs.
Safe cooking temperatures
Preventing avian influenza
Getting the seasonal flu vaccine can reduce the chance of getting sick with both human and avian influenza viruses. However, it doesn’t prevent avian influenza.
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure.
Make sure to avoid:
- high-risk areas such as:
- poultry farms
- live bird and animal markets
- areas where poultry may be slaughtered
- areas where other infected animals have been reported
- surfaces that may have bird droppings on them
- contact with alive or dead wild, farm and backyard birds, including:
- domestic ducks
Make sure to thoroughly cook all poultry dishes, including eggs.
Meat, poultry, fish and seafood safety
Wash your hands with soap under running water for at least 20 seconds regularly and frequently. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. Always keep some with you when you travel.
Hand washing and staying healthy
Cover your mouth and nose with your arm to reduce the spread of germs. If you use a tissue, dispose of it as soon as possible and wash your hands afterwards.
Who is most at risk
Avian influenza is a concern in many countries. The risk of infection for most travellers who have limited contact with infected animals is low.
Travellers at highest risk are those who will be:
- poultry farms or flocks
- live bird or animal markets
- working with poultry, such as:
- domestic ducks
- working with wild or farmed mammals, especially those that are commonly fed raw meat or eat wild birds, such as:
- hunting, de-feathering, field dressing and butchering wild birds and wild mammals
- working with wild birds or mammals for activities such as research, conservation or rehabilitation
Recommendations for travellers
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel to get personalized health advice and recommendations.
Before travelling, check all travel advice and advisories for your destination.
Travel advice and advisories
For health care professionals
Avian influenza is a contagious viral infection. It mainly affects birds but can sometimes infect humans and other mammals.
Illness is caused by infection with influenza type A viruses, which are further classified into subtypes, such as:
Some of these virus subtypes, such as H5N1 and H7N9, have caused serious illness in humans.
Wild birds throughout the world are natural carriers of certain avian influenza viruses. These viruses can infect domestic poultry, often causing the birds to die and potentially leading to widespread outbreaks.
Avian influenza has been reported in many countries around the world. Outbreaks in birds and other animals have occurred in parts of:
- the Americas
Reports on avian influenza in birds and other animals:
- World Animal Health Information System
- Global avian influenza viruses with zoonotic potential situation updates (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
Reports on cases of avian influenza in humans:
- Avian influenza A(H5N1)
- Avian influenza A(H7N9)
- If you become sick or injured while travelling outside Canada or after your return
For health professionals
- Influenza: Avian and other zoonotic disease (World Health Organization)
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