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Bird flu facts for kids

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A chicken being tested for Bird Flu
A chicken being tested for flu

Bird flu (also called avian influenza, avian flu, bird influenza, or grippe of the birds), is an illness caused by a virus. The virus, called influenza A or type A, usually lives in birds, but sometimes infects mammals, including humans. It is called influenza when it infects humans.

There are many types of influenza A, which was first found in a bird in Italy in 1878. Most types have weak symptoms, such as breathing problems, similar to the common cold.

But some types kill birds, and a few kill humans and other mammals. One type of bird flu, called Spanish flu, killed 50 to 100 million people in 1918/1920. Another type, called Asian Flu killed one million in 1957, and another one, called Hong Kong Flu, also killed one million people in 1968.

A subtype, called H5N1, killed six people in Hong Kong in 1997, but did not kill again until 2003, this time in China. Until the middle of 2005, it was primarily found in southeast Asia but since then has spread to parts of Africa and Europe. It has killed tens of millions of birds and resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of millions of other birds to limit its spread. So far it is mostly a bird disease and rarely infects humans. The concern about H5N1 is that it is constantly evolving at a very fast rate and could create a human flu pandemic that could kill many millions of people. Governments around the world are spending billions of dollars to deal with this problem: studying H5N1, creating vaccines, conducting pandemic practice exercises, stockpiling useful flu medication, and many other important activities.


People who do not regularly come into contact with birds are not at high risk for contracting avian influenza. Those at high risk include poultry farm workers, animal control workers, wildlife biologists, and ornithologists who handle live birds. Organizations with high-risk workers should have an avian influenza response plan in place before any cases have been discovered. Biosecurity of poultry flocks is also important for prevention. Flocks should be isolated from outside birds, especially wild birds, and their waste; vehicles used around the flock should be regularly disinfected and not shared between farms; and birds from slaughter channels should not be returned to the farm.

With proper infection control and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the chance for infection is low. Protecting the eyes, nose, mouth, and hands is important for prevention because these are the most common ways for the virus to enter the body. Appropriate personal protective equipment includes aprons or coveralls, gloves, boots or boot covers, and a head cover or hair cover. Disposable PPE is recommended. An N-95 respirator and unvented/indirectly vented safety goggles are also part of appropriate PPE. A powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) with hood or helmet and face shield is also an option.

Proper reporting of an isolated case can help to prevent spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US) recommendation is that if a worker develops symptoms within 10 days of working with infected poultry or potentially contaminated materials, they should seek care and notify their employer, who should notify public health officials.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Gripe aviaria para niños

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