Avian Influenza

Flock of chickens

Outbreaks of influenza occur commonly in birds and are caused by a variety of strains of avian influenza viruses. None of these pose a threat to human health. However, one strain (H5N1) has obtained the ability to transmit from birds to humans, in cases of very close contact, and cause human disease. So far this virus has not had the ability to transmit from one infected person to another. There is great concern that this strain may mutate, obtain that ability to transmit person to person and then could result in a multiple state, regional, national or worldwide pandemic (massive outbreak). Major efforts are being made in countries where the H5N1 AI has occurred to minimize and stop its spread. Major efforts have also been made in the U.S. in case AI develops into a pandemic.

If there is an outbreak of AI, caused by the usual strains, it is of little concern for the general public. As part of the surveillance process, if there is isolation of the H5N1 strain it may still be of little concern as there is a “low pathogenicity” strain which has very limited capacity to cause disease. If there is an outbreak of the “high path” H5N1 strain, AND it begins to spread from one person to others, then there is valid concern of a pandemic. Public and personal health measures will need to move quickly into operation. Knowing immediately what you can do to protect your health and that of your family may be critically important.

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has a plan in place to deal with an influenza outbreak in domestic chickens or turkeys. An outbreak of most avian influenza strains would create economic and management problems for the poultry producer and industry but would NOT be a food safety or human health issue. An outbreak of the high path form of the H5N1 virus would be unusual and would certainly involve the Public Health Department and many other agencies.

Links to websites with detailed and current information on Avian Influenza: