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Duck What is Bird Flu?

Chicken -  Photo  Copyright 2005 Gary Bradley
Photo: G. Bradley

What is Bird Flu?

Avian flu is used to describe the influenza viruses that infect both wild and domestic birds such as ducks and chickens. There are 15 types of bird, or avian flu, the most contagious strains, which are usually fatal in birds, are H5 and H7. 

Bird Flu in People

Bird flu does not normally infect other species, but in 1997 the H5N1 strain infected 18 people in Hong Kong, causing severe respiratory disease. Six people died. The symptoms include; fever, cough, sore throat, aching muscles, conjunctivitis and in severe cases breathing problems and pneumonia.


When a bird is infected with avian flu, it sheds the flu virus in its faeces, saliva and mucus. Other birds become infected by eating or inhaling the virus. In rare cases the virus can infect people in close contact with infected birds - for example by people inhaling dried faeces that have become trampled into dust.


Vaccines are still being developed to offer protection against the H5N1 strain of bird flu. Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu are already available and being stockpiled by many countries around the world. This can limit the symptoms and reduce the spread of the disease. 

Eating Poultry and Eggs

The Food Standards Agency say that you cannot catch avian flu from eating cooked poultry (chicken, duck, goose, turkey, guinea fowl etc.), as it is not a food-borne virus. The only people believed to be at risk are those involved in the slaughter and preparation of infected meat. The World Health Organisation says that to be absolutely safe, cook meat to a temperature of at least 70C. Eggs should also be thoroughly cooked.

If You Find Dead Birds

DEFRA suggests if you find one or more dead swans, more than 3 dead birds of the same species or more than 5 dead birds of different species, in the same place, you should contact the Defra Helpline (08459 33 55 77). You will be asked for details of your finding and its location. An experienced vet or scientist will assess details of the event and decide whether to investigate further. This can mean arrangements will be made to collect the bird carcases, or for the owner/manager of the land where the die off is reported to ensure disposal of the carcases.

Track Down More Info

Food Standards Agency
World Health Organisation
UK Safari Bird Section

  2006 G. Bradley. All Rights Reserved