How bird flu spreads 

It's possible for humans to catch bird flu (avian flu) during close contact with infected birds. Generally, prolonged contact is required for the infection to spread.

The bird flu virus is spread through the droppings of infected birds, as well as secretions from the eyes and respiratory tract. Infected droppings or secretions can contaminate dust, soil, water, feed, equipment, vehicles, clothing and shoes. The virus can also be carried on the feet and bodies of animals.

You may become infected by:

  • touching infected birds that are dead or alive
  • inhaling or being in contact with dried dust from the droppings or bedding of infected birds
  • inhaling droplets sneezed by infected birds
  • slaughtering, butchering or preparing infected poultry for cooking

Another possible source of bird flu can be live markets, where birds are sold in crowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions. Avoid visiting these markets if you're travelling in countries that have had an outbreak of bird flu.

Bird flu is not transmitted through cooked food. Poultry and eggs can be safely eaten in areas that have experienced outbreaks of bird flu.

Read more about preventing bird flu.

Can it spread between people?

There have been isolated cases of bird flu spreading between people, but this is very rare.

In the few cases where it has happened, the infection most often spread after close prolonged contact between an infected person and an uninfected person.

Affected areas

Between 2003 and July 2013 the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans in:

  • Azerbaijan
  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • China (outbreaks of H7N9 strain also reported)
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Indonesia
  • Iraq
  • Laos
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Vietnam

Page last reviewed: 24/07/2013

Next review due: 24/07/2015