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Avian Influenza Infection


Avian influenza (bird flu) is spread through close contact with infected birds and causes a flu-like illness which can be severe.

Recommendations for Travellers

Birds shed influenza virus in their droppings, saliva and nasal secretions, spreading it onto their feathers.

People are usually infected through close contact with live infected birds or surfaces contaminated with their secretions (for example by visiting enclosures or wet markets where birds have been recently kept).

Very rarely infection has passed from one infected person to another through exposure to infectious body secretions.

  • An advice page recommending ways of reducing the risk from avian influenza has been prepared for travellers.
  • In special circumstances, antiviral drugs may be considered for those perceived to be at high risk.
  • The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has advised that 'It is not recommended that travellers take Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) with them'.

Overview of Disease

There are many different strains of influenza virus, but the ones that have caused most problems in humans are called H5N1 and H7N9.

Avian influenza infection in birds occurs worldwide. Human avian influenza virus infection may thus also occur worldwide with the greatest risk being where there is close contact between people and potentially infected birds. China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam have reported the largest number of cases.

The Illness

It usually only takes 3 - 5 days for symptoms to develop after exposure.

The severity of illness appears to vary. Early symptoms are likely to be similar to normal influenza such as fever and cough

  • If you develop a fever, cough or breathlessness severe enough to need medical attention or become severely unwell, you should contact your General Practitioner if in the seven days before illness you:. 
    • Visited a country with an avian flu outbreak and had contact with live poultry or pigs or places that house them OR
    • Had close contact with someone known to have avian influenza.


Antiviral drugs, oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) can be used for treatment.

At present no vaccine for people is available against avian influenza. In the event of a large outbreak a vaccine could be manufactured within months.

Further information

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