H5N1 Avian Influenza A (Bird Flu)

Influenza A (H5N1) virus also called "H5N1 virus" is an influenza A virus subtype that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can be deadly to them. H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but infections with these viruses have occurred in humans. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the avian flu?
Simply put, the avian flu is an influenza virus that is adapted to the bird populations. It is cause for concern because in recent years there have been isolated incidents where it has spread beyond birds to humans. Avian flu that has managed to infect humans is quite serious and planning for a wide spread pandemic is prudent.
What are the differences between seasonal, avian and pandemic flu?
Seasonal flu moves around the world usually once a year, and is generally not deadly. Public Health researchers are able to forecast the exact strain of the flu that will likely sweep the globe and prepare a vaccination for it.
Avian flu on the other hand is normally contained to birds, with isolated cases of human infection.
When there is an outbreak of the disease in a location and it can spread from one person to the other this is called an epidemic. Once the epidemic spreads to multiple locations, or goes worldwide, then it is called a pandemic.
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What is Stony Brook University doing to prepare for a pandemic?
A task force has been convened consisting of many SBU departments. It is headed by Environmental Health and Safety. This task force is actively developing a plan by which all departments will know their defined role in the event of a pandemic (whether due to avian flu or any other infectious disease). This plan is based on New York States Pandemic Plan as well as the plan of the federal government. Read more ›
How can I protect myself (and others) against influenza?
In the event a Pandemic strikes, the best form of defense will be limiting contact with others, frequent hand washing, and when possible wearing of a medically designed mask for protection from droplets spread by coughing and sneezing by others. Read more ›
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How can I personally prepare for a pandemic?
The most important thing as a college student is to know how you would get home if the campus needed to close. Have supplemental plans in case planes, trains, or even buses are shut down. Possibly have someone you know locally take you in. Encourage your family at home to have emergency supplies and plans ready. Visit the CDC website for more information.
What are the signs or symptoms of influenza and what should I do if I have them?
Flu symptoms - such as a headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, and dry cough - appear anywhere from 1 to 4 days after you've been exposed to the virus. Your temperature can get as high as 104°F (40°C). You'll probably feel achy and exhausted and you may lose your appetite. The fever and aching usually disappear within 2 to 3 days, but then you may get a stuffy nose or a sore throat. The stuffy nose, sore throat, and a feeling of tiredness may linger for a week or more. The flu can sometimes cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea in addition to the more common symptoms mentioned above. If you do not have flu symptoms and have only vomiting and diarrhea, you probably have gastroenteritis (pronounced: gas-tro-en-tuh-rye-tuss), an illness that is caused by different viruses or bacteria.
Although you may feel miserable with the flu, complications like pneumonia or bronchitis are rare in healthy teens. Older adults (over age 65) and young children (under age 5) are more likely to become seriously ill with the flu; many elderly people die from the flu or its complications each year.
When you get the flu, the best way to take care of yourself is to rest in bed and drink lots of liquids like water and other non-caffeinated drinks. You should stay home from school until you are feeling better and your temperature has returned to normal.
You probably don't need to contact your doctor unless you develop complications or you have a medical condition - such as diabetes, or heart or lung problems (including asthma or cystic fibrosis) - that may cause you to become sicker with the flu. Persistence of fever (over 101-102°F) beyond 3 days may indicate complications and warrants a visit to a physician.
You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve your fever and aches. Avoid aspirin or any products that contain aspirin because these put you at greater risk of developing Reye syndrome, a very serious illness that can lead to liver failure, which sometimes follows infection with the flu virus.
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What medications are available for the treatment of seasonal influenza?
Seasonal flu viruses typically have a corresponding vaccination that is available to those who are especially susceptible to the disease, or those that wish to take the vaccine. See the Suffolk County Department of Health website for Flu shot clinics. Because antibiotics don't work on viruses, they can't cure the flu. Sometimes doctors can prescribe antiviral medicine to reduce the length of the illness. Four drugs are available to treat and/or prevent influenza. They are amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir. Because of influezna A resistance to rimantadine and amantadine, the CDC recommends against using these drugs to prevent and treat flu during the 2006-07 flu season (November 2006). These medicines are effective only against the type A flu virus and must be taken within 48 hours of the appearance of flu symptoms to be effective. There are potential side effects to these medicines and doctors usually only use this medicine for people who are at risk for serious complications, especially elderly patients. In otherwise healthy people, the benefits of these medications are minimal. Read more about the CDC's current recommendations on tests, vaccines and medications for the flu.
What is the status of vaccination development for the bird flu?
There is currently no effective avian flu vaccine for humans, although researchers are working on it. There are clinical trials for the major strain of the bird flu, and work is beginning on a second possible strain. Experts believe a vaccine most likely will not be available for an avian flu pandemic during its first wave. One may be available during subsequent waves.
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How is the disease transmitted between birds, from birds to humans, and between humans?
Birds transmit avian flu via saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Other birds can pick up the disease from coming into contact with those secretions, or contaminated surfaces. It is very rare and difficult for a human to catch the avian flu, but some strains have been known to infect humans. Once infected, the virus spreads through the body very quickly and is therefore very serious. At this time there are no documented cases where an infected human spread the disease to other humans. However, a mutation of the virus might create a strain that could.
What is the current risk to humans?
Currently there is very little risk for humans to catch the avian flu. In fact, most cases are isolated to Southeast and East Asia where people live in close proximity to domesticated birds such as chickens. Check the WHO website for the current risk level.
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What are the risks for international travelers?
International travelers should be aware of the current state of avian flu outbreaks in the area they're visiting, especially if they are traveling to rural Southeast or East Asia. Visitors to these areas should avoid live animal markets, or surfaces that have bird secretions. As with any international travel one should consult a doctor in order to get up-to-date immunizations and travel advice.
Could migratory birds import the virus to the United States?
Theoretically, because birds can carry the virus, and spread it via various secretions, birds that are migrating to, from, or through the U.S. could spread the virus. However, there haven't been cases of this avian flu in any birds in the Western Hemisphere, and this method of disease transmission has not been observed anywhere. It should be noted that a low pathogenic form of avian flu has been infecting birds in this country for years and poses no risk to humans. Currently no forms of the highly pathogenic form of avian flu have been seen in the U.S. bird population.
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Can the avian flu be spread through air conditioning systems?
The World Health Organization advises that there is not a risk that the avian flu could be spread via air conditioning systems.
How will I know what to do in a pandemic? How will the University communicate with me?
Check your email. Email is an official means of communication with the student body and therefore messages and updates will be distributed in that manner. Messages will also be communicated in the residence halls and by posters around campus. Also continue to check the Stony Brook University website as updates will be posted there.
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Should our campus stockpile Tamiflu and protective masks? Will I be provided these?
There are no proven vaccines for the avian flu and the antiviral medications would be in such short supply that their distribution would go to the neediest as determined by the Department of Health. The University is not in a position to acquire or stockpile these medications. Protective masks would only be provided to ill patients receiving evaluation and treatment at the Health Center. In the event that these need to be distributed the Department of Health and/or the Center for Disease Control would get them to whoever needs them.
In the event of a pandemic, when would our campus close?
When our campus would close depends greatly on the circumstances surrounding the outbreak. We would close only when a pandemic was imminent, but hopefully before all modes of transportation are closed to students.
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How long would it take for a pandemic to pass? When would the campus reopen?
Historically, pandemics come in waves, and as such it is difficult to say. We would stay closed until the governmental health agencies advise us that it is safe to do so. Most experts believe a pandemic wave would last 6-12 weeks.
What do I do if I see a dead bird on campus?
Do not touch it! Report the location and type of bird, if known, to Environmental Health and Safety Pest Management at (631) 632-6410.
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Safe Food Handling and Cooking

Poultry Cooking Temperatures: USDA is in the process of updating all the pages on its website to reflect new cooking recommendations for poultry. For safety, when cooking poultry, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. Poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the product.

Reporting Sick or Dead Wild Birds

To report sick or dead wild birds, contact:

New York Wildlife Services State Director
1930 Route 9
Castleton, NY 12033
Tel: (866)-4-USDA-WS Website: www.aphis.usda.gov/ws

There are many instances every year when birds, mainly waterfowl and shorebirds, become sick or die from a variety of causes, such as trauma, predation, avian botulism or avian cholera. USDA along with the U.S. Department of the Interior and state wildlife agencies routinely investigate these events if large numbers of birds are impacted. Investigating sick or dead wild bird events serves as an effective tool for the early detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

If you notice sick or dead wild birds, please contact your local USDA Wildlife Services office at (866)-4-USDA-WS.


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