Get Ready Mailbag: What’s the deal with bird flu?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to getready@apha.org.

I’ve been hearing a lot about bird flu on the news lately. What the heck is bird flu? Should I be worried?
Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is a virus that occurs naturally in wild aquatic birds, like ducks. It becomes a problem when it infects domestic birds, like chickens and turkeys, and makes them sick.
You’ve probably been hearing about it lately because there have been outbreaks in birds on three Tennessee farms. Another poultry farm in Alabama showed positive signs of bird flu as well. Poultry that’s been cooked to a proper temperature doesn’t pose a risk to consumers. But officials removed the birds from the food supply just in case. It’s better to be safe!

Can I catch it?
It’s possible, but doubtful. Like the flu virus that makes humans sick, bird flu can mutate. If that happens, it can infect humans and other vertebrates. Human infections happen when the virus gets into your body through your nose, mouth or eyes.
People at the highest risk are workers who farm domestic birds and interact with them frequently. There has been an outbreak of bird flu in China this year, mostly in people who spent time near live poultry. Humans infected with bird flu very rarely pass it on to other humans.

I love chicken, and eat it almost every day. Should I stop eating it?
If you cook your poultry thoroughly you should be fine. In fact, you should always cook meat as recommended to protect against bacteria and other infectious diseases. Raw poultry is associated with many infections, like salmonella. Remember to carefully wash all knives and cutting boards after use, and don’t let raw and cooked meat or juices mix together. Don’t forget to cook all eggs thoroughly, too.

I am traveling to China next month for work. Am I safe from the bird flu outbreak there?
If you avoid poultry markets and farms, you should be fine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to stay away from places where live birds are raised, kept or sold when traveling to China or anywhere else. Also, make sure that all poultry that you will be eating, including that delicious Peking duck, is properly cooked.

I keep backyard chickens. Should I be worried about them?
As much as possible, keep your flock away from wild birds. Put away food and water so you don’t attract species that could carry a virus. Wear gloves and wash your hands frequently after handling birds.

My daughter watches Big Bird on Sesame Street every morning. Can he get bird flu?
No, Big Bird is a puppet and therefore not susceptible to bird flu. His puppeteer Caroll Spinney, however, should take care to avoid poultry farms, and thoroughly cook all poultry and eggs before he eats them.

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