Should You Be Concerned About Bird Flu in the US?

Bird flu in the United States. Tim Graham/The Image Bank/Getty Images

In December 2014, bird flu viruses were identified in several wild birds in Washington state. Since then, outbreaks have been reported in multiple other states and areas. As of May 2015, the USDA has detected H5 bird flu outbreaks in 15 states and identified H5 bird flu in wild birds in 5 additional states. 

New Strains of Avian Flu

Just like with human influenza, avian (bird) flu viruses mutate and change frequently.

In January 2015, a new strain of H5N1 bird flu was identified in a wild bird in Washington state. This strain was different from previously identified H5N1 strains. 

Bird flu viruses are categorized as either low-pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Highly pathogenic viruses are much more concerning both to the bird population and humans, as these viruses are usually fatal to poultry and are more likely to cause illness in people. 

Both HPAI and LPAI have been identified in North America. 

What Does This Mean For You?

Many people hear the term "bird flu" and immediately fear the H5N1 outbreaks that spread to humans in Asian countries in recent years. At this time, there have been no human infections identified in the United States. But that doesn't mean that it can't or won't happen. These or similar viruses have caused infections in humans before. 

Those most likely to be affected by the bird flu in the United States are those who are frequently exposed to birds or poultry that could be infected. 

The CDC believes that the risk to the general public is low at this time. However, they do have guidelines to keep in mind to reduce your risk of contracting H5 bird flu.

These include:

  • Avoiding wild birds and observing them only from a distance
  • Avoid contact with poultry that appear sick or have died
  • Avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with bird droppings
  • If you have had contact with infected birds (or suspect that you may have), monitor your health for flu-like symptoms or conjunctivitis and contact your health care provider if you notice them.
  • If you have had known contact with infected birds, talk to your health care provider about the possibility of taking antiviral medications preventatively.

If you seek treatment for possible H5 bird flu infection and your health care provider believes there is a possibility you may be infected, she should contact the local or state health department who should then contact the CDC. The CDC is providing case by case guidance on any suspected infections. 

What You Don't Need to Be Concerned About

There is no evidence that H5 bird flu viruses have ever been transmitted through properly cooked poultry.

There is no reason to avoid eating poultry products. Always ensure your poultry is cooked thoroughly to avoid illness from contaminants such as salmonella.

The CDC and USDA will continue to monitor the situation and make additional recommendations should the outbreaks worsen or any human illness is discovered.


"H5 Viruses in the United States". Avian Influenza 13 May 15. Influenza (Flu). US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 20 May 15.

" USDA Avian Influenza Fact Sheet". April 2015. United States Department of Agriculture. 20 May 15. 

"Avian Influenza". 8 May 15. United States Department of Agriculture. 20 May 15. 

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