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Avian influenza and monitoring human health          Send a link to a friend

What you can do to protect yourself and your family

[MARCH 24, 2006]  WASHINGTON -- At present, highly pathogenic avian influenza, such as the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, is a disease of birds and is not readily transmitted to humans. In rare cases, it can be spread from birds to people, primarily as a result of extensive direct contact with raw infected poultry or poultry droppings. There have been no documented cases of human highly pathogenic H5N1 disease resulting from contact with wild birds.

Broad concerns about public health relate to the potential for the virus to mutate, or change into a form that could spread from person to person. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is aggressively working with a team of federal, state and industry partners to ensure public health is protected.

Since February 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the Department of Health and Human Services has provided U.S. public health departments with a series of alerts providing recommendations for enhanced monitoring for highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza in the U.S. These alerts, distributed through CDC's Health Alert Network, reminded public health departments about recommendations for detecting, diagnosing and preventing the spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. The alerts also recommended measures for laboratory testing for suspected highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.

Food safety

Eating properly handled and cooked poultry is safe. If highly pathogenic H5N1 were detected in the U.S., the chance of infected poultry entering the human food chain would be extremely low. Even if it did, proper cooking kills this virus just as it does many other disease organisms and parasites. Poultry products imported to the U.S. must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the U.S.

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.

  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other foods.

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  • After cutting raw meats, wash cutting board, knife and countertops with hot, soapy water.

  • Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water.

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the safe internal temperature -- in all parts of the bird. Cook poultry to at least 165 degrees F to kill food-borne germs that might be present, including the avian influenza virus.

Guidance for handling wildlife

The Department of Interior's National Wildlife Health Center has issued guidance to follow routine precautions when handling wild birds. The center recommends that people handling wild birds:

  • Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.

  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game; wash hands with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand products if the hands are not visibly soiled; and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game.

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling or cleaning birds.

Cook all game meat thoroughly -- at least to 165 degrees -- to kill disease organisms and parasites.

[U.S. Department of Agriculture news release]


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