Highly pathogenic avian influenza

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), sometimes called bird flu, is a viral infection that mainly affects birds, although it can 'spill over' to mammals. There are different types of HPAI viruses and they do not spread easily from animals to humans, or between humans. HPAI is generally only found in people who have had a lot of close contact with infected birds or other infected animals.

Avian influenza is very rare in people

How avian influenza spreads

Avian influenza can be spread to humans through close contact with an infected bird or animals, such as their droppings, saliva or contaminated materials. This can include: 

  • touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching infected live or dead birds or other animals 
  • touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching droppings (poo) or other animal materials (urine, blood and other body fluids) of infected birds or other animals.  
Drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk from infected animals is a possible risk. Raw milk is generally not safe to drink.

Is it safe to drink raw milk and eat raw milk products? — Ministry for Primary Industries (external link)

You cannot catch avian influenza through eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, or drinking pasteurised milk, even in areas with an outbreak of bird flu.

Symptoms of avian influenza

Symptoms of avian influenza include:

  • a high temperature or feeling hot and shivery
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath
  • runny poos (diarrhoea)
  • stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • bleeding from the nose or gums 
  • conjunctivitis (eye or eyelid redness and swelling).

Diagnosing avian influenza

The risk of having avian influenza in Aotearoa New Zealand or overseas is very low. However, your healthcare provider may consider taking a throat swab to test for infection if you:

  • feel unwell after recent travel to a country affected by avian influenza
  • you had close contact with sick or dead animals while travelling.

Your healthcare provider might do other tests to make sure it is not a different condition. 

Treating avian influenza

People with avian influenza infection are likely to need hospital care. Antiviral treatment (medicine) may be offered.

Protecting yourself from avian influenza

In Aotearoa New Zealand

If you are going tramping, camping, hunting, walking dogs near bird colonies, or going anywhere where you may be exposed to wild birds or marine mammals, there are things you should do.

  • If you see 3 or more sick or dead wild birds in a group, report it immediately to Biosecurity New Zealand's Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline on 0800 80 99 66
  • If you find sick or dead wild birds, avoid contact with them or bodily fluids. Do not allow tamariki (children), dogs or other animals to go near or handle sick or dead birds.
  • Maintain good hand hygiene. Wash your hands either with soap and running water, or use alcohol hand rubs often and thoroughly — especially before and after contact with animals and their environment.

Before you travel overseas

If you are travelling overseas, check the health advice for each country you are visiting on the Safe Travel website, and check you are up to date with your immunisations.

Travel advisories by destination — Safe Travel (external link)

If you are travelling to areas affected by avian influenza, you should do these things.

  • Avoid farms and live animal markets, entering areas where animals may be slaughtered, or surfaces that appear contaminated with animal poos (faeces) or other materials.
  • Avoid close contact with wild or domesticated birds.

You should also follow good food safety and food hygiene practices including:

  • washing your hands if you handle birds and uncooked poultry products such as meat or eggs
  • make sure that meat, poultry or poultry products are cooked thoroughly before eating
  • not drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk.

Ministry for Primary Industries

Detailed information about bird flu, minimising the risk to birds and livestock, protecting native species, and what MPI is doing.

Department of Conservation

Information about bird flu, protecting wildlife and resources.

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