Questions and Answers about Avian Influenza (bird flu) for Travelers
This fact sheet provides general information about avian influenza (bird flu) and information about one type of bird flu, called avian influenza A (H5N1) which is causing infections in birds and humans.
- What is bird flu (avian influenza)?
- Do avian influenza viruses infect humans?
- What are the symptoms of avian influenza in humans?
- Where is avian influenza occurring?
- Does CDC recommend travel restrictions to areas with known H5N1 outbreaks?
- Is there a risk of infection for people who travel to areas affected by avian influenza?
- What can I do to protect myself from avian influenza before and during travel?
- Can I get avian influenza from eating or preparing poultry or eggs?
- What should I do if I become sick when traveling abroad in an avian influenza-affected area?
- Should I see a doctor after I return from an area with avian influenza?
- What is pandemic flu?
- How will I know if the situation with avian influenza changes?
- Is there a risk in handling feather products that come from countries experiencing outbreaks of avian influenza A (H5N1)?
Bird flu —avian influenza—is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses, such as influenza A (H5N1) subtype . Influenza A infection occurs mainly in wild birds worldwide, which carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.
Avian influenza viruses do not usually infect humans, but more than 200 confirmed cases of human infection with H5N1 viruses have occurred since 1997. Because of concerns about the potential for more widespread infection in the human population, public health authorities closely monitor outbreaks of human illness associated with avian influenza. The World Health Organization (WHO) maintains situation updates and cumulative reports of human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1).
Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress syndrome), and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of avian influenza may depend on which specific virus subtype and strain caused the infection.
The avian influenza A (H5N1) epizootic (animal outbreak) is occurring in parts of Asia, Europe, the Near East, and Africa. Human cases have been reported in some countries. Currently, H5N1 avian influenza has not been reported in the United States. See update on avian influenza in animals from the World Organization for Animal Health website. See the WHO website for the cumulative reports of human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) and situation updates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend any travel restrictions to affected countries at this time. However, CDC advises that travelers to countries with known outbreaks of H5N1 influenza avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. For more information, see Human Infection with Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus Advice for travelers.
The risk from avian influenza is generally low to most people, because the viruses do not usually infect humans. During an outbreak of avian influenza among poultry, there is a possible risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. In addition, rare instances of probable human-to-human transmission associated with H5N1 viruses have occurred, most recently in a family cluster in Indonesia.
Prevention of illness during travel always begins with preparation before travel:
- Before you travel, be sure you are up to date with all your routine vaccinations (i.e., tetanus/diphtheria, polio, measles/mumps/rubella, and seasonal influenza vaccine if it is available), and see your doctor or health-care provider to get any additional vaccinations, medications, or information you may need.
- Assemble a travel health kit containing basic first aid and medical supplies.
- Visit CDC's Travelers' Health website at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel to educate yourself and others who may be traveling with you about any disease risks and CDC health recommendations for international travel in the areas you plan to visit.
- Learn what medical services your health insurance will cover overseas, as well as any policy exclusions.
- Identify health-care resources in the country(ies) you will be visiting and resources for emergency medical evacuation, especially if your travel will be long-term or if you have an underlying medical condition.
- For informational purposes, Travel Health Online and the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) provide lists of travel medicine health-care providers from around the world.
- A list of travel insurance and medical evacuation companies is available at the U.S. Department of State website. For more information, see Seeking Health Care Abroad in Health Information for International Travel .
- During travel, a void places where live birds, such as chickens, are raised or kept.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water to prevent disease transmission. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (containing at least 60% alcohol).
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and encourage others to do the same.
For more information, see Human Infection with Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus
Advice for travelers.
You cannot get avian influenza from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs.
Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds. Even if poultry and eggs were to be contaminated with the virus, proper cooking would kill it.
- If you become sick with symptoms such as a fever accompanied by a cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing, or if you develop any illness that requires prompt medical attention, a U.S. consular officer can assist you in locating medical services and informing your family or friends. See the U.S. Department of State.
- Wear a mask if you are sick.
- Before you visit the doctor or clinic, inform your health-care provider of any possible exposures to avian influenza.
- Do not travel if you are sick except to seek local medical care.
See Seeking Health Care Abroad in Health Information for International Travel for more information about what to do if you become ill while abroad.
After returning from an area affected by avian influenza, you should
- Pay close attention to your health for 10 days to check for symptoms of fever along with a cough, sore throat, or breathing problems.
- If you develop these symptoms, see a health-care provider. Before your visit, tell your doctor about your recent trip.
- Wear a mask if you are sick to prevent spreading infection to others.
Pandemic flu is a contagious human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person. Currently, there is no pandemic flu.
The public health threat of a pandemic arising from novel influenza subtypes such as influenza A (H5N1) virus will be greatly increased if the virus gains the ability to spread easily from one human to another.
- Because the situation is evolving, stay abreast of any new developments by checking the official U.S. government website for pandemic flu. The CDC Travelers' Health website, CDC Avian Influenza website, and the WHO website are also regularly updated.
- If you are abroad, the U.S. Department of State website provides information including travel warnings, emergencies, crisis awareness and preparedness, consular information, and special services. In addition, pay attention to any alerts or restrictions from local health authorities.
Is there a risk in handling feather products that come from countries experiencing outbreaks of avian influenza A (H5N1)?
The U.S. government has determined that there is a risk to handling feather products from countries experiencing outbreaks of H5N1 influenza.
There is currently a ban on the importation of birds and bird products from H5N1-affected countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. The regulation states that no person may import or attempt to import any birds (Class Aves), whether dead or alive, or any products derived from birds (including hatching eggs), from the specified countries (see Embargo of Birds from Specified Countries). This prohibition does not apply to any person who imports or attempts to import products derived from birds if, as determined by federal officials, such products have been properly processed to render them noninfectious so that they pose no risk of transmitting or carrying H5Nl and which comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements. Therefore, feathers from these countries are banned unless they have been processed to render them noninfectious. Additional information about the import ban is available on the USDA website.
For more information about avian influenza and travel, see:
For more information about pandemic influenza and avian influenza, see
- Page created: July 14, 2006
- Page last updated: July 14, 2006
- Page last reviewed: January 13, 2011
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