Avian Influenza

Avian influenza, also known as the bird flu, is a disease caused by a virus that infects wild birds (like quail, cranes, geese and ducks) and can spread to domestic poultry and pet birds (such as parrots). Each year, there is a bird flu season just as there is for humans, and as with people, some forms of the flu are worse than others.

Avian influenza strains are divided into two groups: low pathogenicity (LP) and high pathogenicity (HP). Low path bird flu has existed in the United States since the early 1900s and is not uncommon. It causes illness in birds and can be fatal to some of them. The low path strains of the disease pose no serious threat to human health. High path avian influenza is more easily transmitted and is often fatal in birds.

H5N1 avian influenza is the high path type of the virus that has been detected in parts of Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. This strain has been transmitted to humans, most of whom had extensive, direct contact with infected birds.

Protecting the U.S.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as a primary safeguard, maintains trade restrictions on importing poultry and poultry products from affected countries. No birds of any kind can be imported from a country where the H5N1 strain has been detected.

All imported live birds are must be quarantined at a USDA facility for 30 days and tested for avian influenza before entering the U.S. This requirement also applies to all returning pet birds with U.S. origin.

The USDA works with federal, state and local partners in the poultry industry to monitor bird populations in the U.S. Surveillance is conducted in four key areas: live bird markets, commercial flocks, backyard flocks and migratory bird populations. Random testing takes place in live bird markets and commercial flocks, as well as any birds that show signs of illness.

The USDA is working closely with these partners, as well as industry stakeholders, to ensure that effective and coordinated emergency response plans are ready should an outbreak of high path avian influenza occur in the U.S.

Food Safety

It is safe to eat poultry that is properly handled and cooked. Low path avian influenza is not transmittable by eating poultry. If high path avian influenza were to be detected in the U.S., the chance of infected poultry entering the food chain would be extremely low.

The key to food safety is cooking poultry to the proper temperature and preventing cross contamination between raw and cooked food. Consumers are reminded to:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food;
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other foods;
  • Wash cutting boards, knives and countertops with hot, soapy water after cutting raw meats;
  • Sanitize cutting boards and other surfaces using a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water or a commercial sanitizing solution;
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the proper temperature. Cook whole birds, legs, thighs and wings to 180° F, breasts to 170° F; ground turkey and chicken to 165° F and maintain a minimum oven temperature of 325° F.

For more information, download this brochure from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.