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Avian Influenza

Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a disease affecting wild birds and domestic poultry such as chicken, ducks and turkeys. It is caused by a flu virus closely related to human flu viruses. 

08 Nov 2018

Understanding Avian Influenza

Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a disease affecting wild birds and domestic poultry such as chicken, ducks and turkeys. It is caused by a flu virus closely related to human flu viruses. 

The H5N1 sub-type is highly contagious and has been responsible for recent outbreaks and deaths in Asia and around the world. To date, there have been no cases of H5N1 bird flu in Singapore in either birds or humans.

The H7N9 sub-type has also been responsible for recent outbreaks and deaths in China.

How bird flu is transmitted

The H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but it can be transmitted through:

  • direct or close contact with H5N1-infected birds;

  • direct contact with surfaces contaminated by secretions or excretions from infected birds.

Slaughtering, de-feathering, handling or preparing infected birds for consumption, especially at home, may increase the risks of contracting H5N1.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus can be transmitted through the consumption of properly prepared poultry or eggs, although a few cases have been linked to dishes containing raw, contaminated poultry blood.

Transmission from one ill person to another is very rare.

Symptoms of bird flu

The most common symptoms of bird flu are similar to those of regular flu:

  • High fever (usually over 38 degrees Celsius)

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Phlegm

  • Difficulty breathing

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach pain

  • Chest pain

  • Bleeding from your nose or gums

Protecting against bird flu

If you plan to travel to countries with known cases of bird flu, minimise your risk by:

  • Avoiding contact with live poultry and birds.

  • Avoiding handling or eating raw or undercooked poultry or foods containing uncooked poultry, including eggs.

  • Avoiding commercial or backyard poultry farms, and markets selling birds.

  • Avoiding crowded areas and maintaining good ventilation.

  • Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling live poultry and birds.

  • Observing good personal and environmental hygiene.

If you suspect you may have bird flu, help to prevent the spread by:

  • Consulting your doctor as soon as possible if you have had contact with live birds, or have recently travelled to a country with avian influenza cases. Make sure to inform your doctor of which countries you have visited. If you are overseas, refrain from travelling until you are certified fit.

  • Being socially responsible. If you think you may have avian influenza, please wear a surgical mask to the doctor and avoid taking public transport if possible.

Treatment for bird flu

Treatment may vary, depending on your symptoms. If the disease is caught early, Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is often the recommended first treatment. Tamiflu may also be offered to any family members who have been exposed to the virus.

More rarely, avian influenza requires treatment in hospital.

There are currently no H5N1 vaccines available for humans, and the seasonal influenza viruses do not protect against H5N1.