Avian Influenza (H5N1)

Commonly called bird flu, avian influenza, is a disease of birds caused by influenza viruses closely related to human influenza viruses.

The H5N1 subtype of Influenza A is a highly contagious avian influenza virus affecting wild birds and poultry, and has been responsible for recent human outbreaks and deaths in Asia and other parts of the world.

Avian Influenza in Singapore

There have been no cases of avian influenza (H5N1) detected in Singapore, either in humans or poultry.

Definition & Characteristics

Highly Pathogenic Influenza A (H5N1) virus – also called "HPAI H5N1 virus" – is an influenza A virus that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can be deadly to them, especially domestic poultry. 

HPAI H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but infections with these viruses have occurred in humans. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. 

There is currently no evidence that Influenza A (H5N1) virus can be transmitted to humans through properly prepared poultry or eggs. A few human cases have been linked to consumption of dishes made of raw, contaminated poultry blood.

However, slaughter, de-feathering, handling carcasses of infected poultry, and preparing poultry for consumption, especially in household settings, are likely to be risk factors for transmission.

The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another person has been reported very rarely, and has been limited, inefficient and unsustained.

Symptoms

The reported symptoms of Avian Influenza (H5N1) in humans are similar to seasonal influenza symptoms such as:

  • high fever (usually more than 38 degrees Celsius)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • running nose
  • production of phlegm
  • difficulty in breathing

Other symptoms that have occasionally been reported include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Bleeding from nose and gums

What to Do If You Have Avian Influenza

Consult your doctor as soon as possible and inform your doctor if you had contact with live birds or recently travelled to a country with avian influenza cases.

If you are overseas, consult a local doctor and refrain from travelling until you are certified fit.

Be socially responsible. Please put on a surgical mask on your way to the clinic and avoid taking public transport if possible.

Treatment of Avian Influenza

Early treatment with Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is the recommended therapy. Treatment may vary depending on the person’s symptoms.

Oseltamivir may also be prescribed for persons who live in the same house as those diagnosed with Influenza A (H5N1).

People with severe infection may require treatment in hospitals.

Currently, there is no Influenza A (H5N1) vaccine commercially available for humans. The available human seasonal influenza vaccines do not protect against human disease caused by the Influenza A (H5N1).

Precautions You Can Take

Avian Influenza is primarily a disease affecting birds. Human infections are rare.

If you intend to travel to countries with cases of avian influenza, you should take note of the following measure to minimize your risk of acquiring avian influenza:

  • Avoid contact with live poultry and birds, especially for children.
  • Avoid handling or eating raw or undercooked poultry or foods containing uncooked poultry (including eggs).
  • Avoid places such as commercial or backyard poultry farms and markets selling birds.
  • Avoid crowded areas and maintain good ventilation.
  • Wash hand thoroughly with soap and water after handling live poultry and birds, and when they are dirtied by respiratory secretions e.g. after sneezing.
  • Observe good personal and environmental hygiene.
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