Avian Influenza

In November 2014, a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, H5N2, was identified in commercial poultry, backyard flocks and wild birds in Canada and several western states. Since that time, it has been identified in other states, including Kansas.

The risk to the public is very low, and there is no food safety concern. When infected flocks are identified, the birds are quarantined and any remaining birds are depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease.

Can people get Avian influenza? No human cases of infection with this strain of the virus (H5N2) have been detected in the U.S. or other countries. However, some highly pathogenic avian flu viruses can infect people causing mild to severe respiratory illness. In most cases, people are infected after direct contact with infected birds.

HPAI does not pose a health risk to the public. Only persons who have direct contact with infected birds are potentially at risk. People in contact with infected birds are monitored by KDHE for 10 days to make sure they don’t become sick. It is also recommended for them to take antiviral medication.

Is poultry safe to eat? There is no evidence that any human cases of avian influenza have ever been acquired by eating properly cooked poultry products. 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.

How is avian influenza transmitted? Most human infections with avian influenza have occurred following direct or close contact with infected poultry. The spread of avian influenza from one person to another has been reported very rarely, and has been limited, inefficient and not sustained.

What are signs and symptoms of avian influenza? Virus infections in people have been associated with conjunctivitis, influenza-like illness, severe respiratory illness (e.g. shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, respiratory failure), and sometimes can be accompanied by nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Recommendations/Important Information:

  • As a general precaution, people should avoid wild birds and observe them only from a distance; avoid contact with domestic birds (poultry) that appear ill or have died; and avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.
  • Everyone older than 6 months of age, especially those who work with poultry or who own poultry, should get a seasonal flu vaccination.
  • People who have had contact with infected bird(s) should monitor their own health for possible symptoms (for example, conjunctivitis, or flu-like symptoms).
  • People who have had contact with infected birds may also be given influenza antiviral drugs preventatively.
  • Health care providers evaluating patients with possible HPAI H5 infection should notify their local or state health departments which in turn should notify CDC. CDC is providing case-by-case guidance at this time.
  • There is no evidence that any human cases of avian influenza have ever been acquired by eating properly cooked poultry products.

Additional Materials:
Influenza Information for Poultry Producers

Kansas Department of Agriculture
Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention