Bird flu

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

Bird flu or avian influenza is caused by a flu virus that is very contagious in poultry and water birds. There are three sub types that can infect humans in rare cases:  H5, H7 and H9 virus.

Most human infections involve the H7N9 or H5N1 sub type.  Infection almost always occurs through contact with sick birds, such as chickens or geese.

The disease symptoms vary from an eye infection or a mild flu to severe pneumonia.

The risk to travellers is very low. 

Risk areas

Bird flu occurs mainly in China, but outbreaks have also been reported elsewhere in the world.


Avoid contact with birds and poultry

In countries where bird flu occurs:  

  • Avoid contact with birds and poultry, even if they are dead.  
  • Avoid markets where birds are traded.  
  • Avoid places that may be contaminated by the excrement of birds.

Food preparation

Ensure that chicken meat is heated thoroughly (at least 70°C) and cooked through.  

Eat only hard-boiled eggs or eggs that are fried “over well”. 

Do not eat food prepared using animal blood products.

Basic hygiene

Wash your hands regularly, especially before meal preparation. Use an alcohol-based gel if soap and water are not available.

Stay away from people who are sick or coughing.


There is no vaccine available. The flu vaccine does not protect against bird flu.


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