Avian influenza: am I at risk?

Online Q&A
11 January 2006

Q: Avian influenza: am I at risk?

A: The risk of avian influenza to humans is almost entirely confined to those who have had close contact with infected domestic poultry. For people who have no contact with domestic or wild birds the risk is almost non-existent.

To date, most human cases of avian influenza have occurred in rural or periurban areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of the virus in their faeces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions. Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, defeathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking. In view of recent experiences in Asia and Turkey, it is particularly important for children to understand why they must not touch ill or dead poultry or wild birds, and why any such finding should be reported immediately.

Poultry and poultry products should be properly cooked and handled during food preparation. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70ºC in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).

There is concern that the virus – if given enough opportunities – will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person, but this has yet to occur.

WHO is currently investigating the latest influenza outbreaks in Turkey. Initial investigation has found no evidence that the virus has increased in its transmissibility or is spreading from person to person.

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