Avian Influenza Virus (Bird Flu)

Avian influenza viruses usually infect birds, but rare cases of human infection with these viruses have been reported. Humans that get avian influenza usually have come in direct contact with infected birds, birds that have died from avian influenza, or bird droppings from infected birds.

Avian influenza is also referred to as “Avian Influenza A”. There are two types of Avian Influenza A: highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). Most avian influenza viruses are either H5 or H7 viruses. Some are highly pathogenic, but most are low pathogenic. The difference between HPAI and LPAI is based on the virus itself, but also the virus’ ability to cause severe illness and death in chickens. Chickens are used as a marker to determine if a particular virus is LPAI or HPAI, but these viruses cause disease and death in many other species of birds, especially those important to the US economy like turkeys. In the US, we are most concerned about HPAI viruses because they can be devastating to our agricultural community. Both represent a very low risk to humans.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza typically infects wild birds, primarily waterfowl, such as ducks; however, it can infect many types of birds and other animals. Birds infected with highly pathogenic H5N1 virus can experience mild to extremely severe symptoms, including death. Rarely, domestic birds, such as chickens, also get infected with HPAI. In poultry, it causes severe illness and death. In rare instances, the HPAI or “bird flu” virus can be transmitted to humans primarily through direct exposure to infected birds or the environment where the infected birds live. When people get infected with "bird flu" virus, it can cause severe illness and death. Currently, HPAI has not been documented to transmit easily between people. For more information about “bird flu” in humans, please visit the following CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-humans.htm.

It is important to remember that HPAI mostly impacts production and economic stability for our poultry industry.  It is safe to consume properly-handled and cooked poultry products, including meat and eggs.

Current US Situation as of October 2023

There is ongoing surveillance throughout the US and the world to monitor for "bird flu" in wild birds, commercial poultry, and backyard birds. In the US, the US Department of Agriculture, US Department of the Interior and the US Department of Health and Human Services work together on this surveillance and have one of the strongest surveillance programs worldwide. The highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 strain has been identified in the United States in wild birds, commercial poultry, backyard flocks, and wild mammals in 2023. More information on surveillance and positive results in both domestic and wild birds can be found on the USDA website:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza 

The Georgia Department of Public Health works closely with partners at the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) on all animal and human-related public health concerns. Please refer to the Georgia Department of Agriculture webpage for up-to-date guidance on Avian Influenza in animals: Georgia Department of Agriculture information on Avian Influenza - https://agr.georgia.gov/avian-influenza.aspx

Other Resources

Page last updated 11/16/23