Avian influenza – are humans at risk?

Avian influenza is more of an issue for those who raise poultry than for those who consume it.

Story updated June 9, 2015. Michigan State University Extension experts have assembled resources and information to help answer frequently asked questions that poultry owners, 4-H families and consumers may have about avian influenza.

The avian influenza A virus, also referred to as avian flu or bird flu, is in the news again. This virus, which occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds throughout the world, can infect domestic poultry as well as other birds and animals. The virus can be deadly for domestic poultry and, if infected, whole flocks can be wiped out. This raises a question for consumers: “If avian influenza can infect domestic poultry, can it be transmitted to humans?”

There are some rare cases where humans have become infected with avian influenza A after handling infected birds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the spread of the influenza A virus between humans is extremely rare. When it has occurred, it has been “limited, inefficient and not sustained.”  To avoid contracting the disease, people should avoid close contact with infected birds and their droppings.

According to eXtension, when avian influenza is detected in the United States, the chance of infected poultry or eggs entering our food system is extremely low. The reason is that, once birds are infected with the virus, they die quickly and are removed from the food chain. We also have safeguards in place for inspecting and handling flocks that have or are suspected of having avian influenza. On June 8, 2015, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the state’s first confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N2 in the state. The disease was found in free-ranging Canada geese in Macomb County. The USDA keeps track of outbreaks throughout the United States. Regular updates are posted on the avian influenza reporting section of their website. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is monitoring the spread of avian influenza throughout the United States.

Avian influenza is much more of an issue for those who raise poultry than for those who consume it. The general public can rest assured that no one has come down with avian flu after consuming poultry or eggs that have been cooked properly. Michigan State University Extension and the USDA recommend that chicken be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Never thaw frozen chicken at room temperature—thaw the meat in the refrigerator, the microwave or a cold water bath. For instructions on how to thaw poultry safely, refer to the Michigan State University Extension bulletin How to Safely Handle Poultry and Tips on Cutting Up a Whole Bird.

Keep eggs refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not keep raw eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Cook egg dishes to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Eggs that are scrambled, fried, poached, boiled or baked should be cooked until the yolk and white are firm.

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