Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza, also known as Avian Flu or Bird Flu, is caused by an Influenza virus which naturally spreads amongst birds and animals. 

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is notifiable animal health disease. It affects the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of many species of birds. It can have mortality rates of up to 100 per cent of infected birds. The virus occurs naturally among wild birds worldwide, particularly waterfowl. It can easily spread to domestic and kept birds.

Whilst humans and other animals can be infected with HPAI through close contact with live infected birds the cases of this occurring are extremely rare and the risk to human health is normally negligible. However, care should be taken if you handle birds. In rare cases the virus can be passed to a person, through unprotected contact with an infected bird or animal’s (live or dead) saliva, mucous and faeces.

The virus can be contracted by entering a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or inhalation of droplets in the air. The virus can also be transmitted when a person touches a contaminated surface or object, and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose.

Reporting Avian Flu

Avian Flu is a notifiable animal disease which means upon detection it must be reported to public health authorities.

If any type of Avian Flu is suspected, it should be reported immediately to the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301.

If a dead or sick bird is found it should not be touched or picked up - instead, call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

Go to the Government website for more information about the signs of bird flu, how to report it in poultry and other captive birds and what to do if you find a dead wild bird

Symptoms in humans

The symptoms of the virus in humans ranges, in many cases there are no or only mild symptoms such as eye redness (conjunctivitis) or cold-like respiratory symptoms.

However, a small number of people may experience more serious symptoms including fever, and high temperature, and more typical Flu symptoms (cough, sore throat, runny nose, aches, headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing).

In severe cases a person may experience Pneumonia or require hospitalisation, however the likelihood of death is low. In some cases, anti-viral drugs may be prescribed to help the body fight the virus.

Those at higher risk of Avian Flu include:

  • people who come into regular contact with bird or animal species at risk of Avian Flu, such as those who work with or keep birds
  • anyone who comes into contact with a bird or animal within a Prevention Zone (an area where Avian Flu is confirmed or suspected where measures are put in place to prevent the spread of the disease)

When to seek medical advice 

Anyone who has been in close contact with a bird or animal species or works in an area with birds or animals (infected or at risk of infection) and has symptoms of Avian Flu should contact their GP for advice.

Any suspected human infection should be reported and will be investigated, and risk-based planning carried out.


Controlling the disease in birds and animals is critical to decreasing the risk to humans.

Avian Flu can be prevented by:

  • avoiding contact with any bird or animal that may be infected, particularly in a Protection Zone, Surveillance Zone or country with known outbreaks of Avian Flu
  • ensuring, if a person does need to have contact with a bird or animal that may be infected, they wear appropriate PPE and observe good hand hygiene afterwards
  • avoiding contact with anyone who may have Avian Flu

Further information and guidance