Everything You Should Know About the Bird Flu Virus

An illustration representing the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus from poultry to dairy cattle.You may have recently heard about the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus among poultry and dairy cows in the United States. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the risk to public health posed by this virus is low; however, the situation is being monitored closely, and it’s important for you to know the potential risks posed to humans by H5N1.

So far, the H5N1 strain of the bird flu has infected wild birds in all 50 states and poultry in 48 states. More recently, it has also been discovered in herds of dairy cows in nine states; this is concerning to health experts because it may indicate that the virus could mutate in a way that makes it easier to spread among humans. In fact, a dairy worker had reportedly become infected in April after exposure to infected cows.

The CDC recommends taking certain actions to protect yourself against this virus and prevent it from spreading among human populations. These actions include:

  • Avoiding direct contact with wild birds as much as possible, particularly if they seem ill or are dead
  • Avoiding unprotected exposure to live or dead infected animals (particularly dairy cattle) as much as possible
  • Monitoring and reporting any new symptoms you experience within 10 days of exposure to the virus, particularly respiratory symptoms or eye redness
  • Getting the seasonal flu vaccine; while this does not reduce your risk of bird flu infection, it is recommended for reducing your risk of co-infection with human influenza viruses

If you have become sick within 10 days of exposure to the bird flu virus, you should isolate yourself at home away from other members of your household and avoid your workplace or school until you are confirmed to no longer have the H5N1 virus. 

Poultry products such as chicken and eggs, as well as beef products, can still be consumed safely as long as they’re cooked to an appropriate internal temperature to kill bacteria and viruses. You should avoid consuming raw milk or any products that contain raw milk. 

If you become sick with flu symptoms, particularly after potential exposure to H5N1, it’s important that you receive treatment from a doctor as soon as possible. You can schedule an appointment at Flushing Hospital Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Center by calling (718) 670-5486.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.