Can bird flu be passed to humans? Symptoms and dangers to be aware of

30 November 2022, 16:03

Avian bird flu is causing huge health concerns across the UK
Avian bird flu is causing huge health concerns across the UK. Picture: Alamy

By Zoe Adams

The outbreak of Avian flu in the UK is the largest the country has ever seen, but can humans catch it? And can you get bird flu from eating chicken? Here's the latest on the outbreak of the virus.

Bird flu in the UK is at an all time high with new rules being brought in on November 7 that all poultry and captive birds in England must be kept indoors.

Now labelled the biggest outbreak the country has ever seen, the Avian flu is set to cause big turkey shortages for Christmas.

Half of the UK's stock of free range turkeys have fallen victim to the disease this year, or been culled to stop its spread, and one in nine of the total have been lost.

Bird flu has caused more than 5.5million deaths since October 2021, with 2.3million being birds from October 2022 alone.

Chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: "We are now facing this year the largest ever outbreak of bird flu and are seeing rapid escalation in the number of cases on commercial farms and in backyard birds across England."

Read more: Could eggs shell-out? Bird flu sees shoppers scramble as supermarket rationing looms

Read more: UK’s chief veterinary officer orders bird and poultry owners across England to keep flocks indoors as bird flu cases soar

So with the threat level being raised to 'very high' for Avian flu, many are asking how dangerous it is for people? Can humans catch it? And is it still safe to eat chicken? Here's the latest:

Avian flu warning sign in England
Avian flu has caused millions of deaths in birds over the last year. Picture: Alamy

Is bird flu dangerous to humans?

Bird flu is a highly infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds and only in very rare cases, it can affect humans.

Currently, there are four strains of the virus that have caused concern in recent years (although there are many more) and most of them don't infect humans.

However, while those strains don't infect people easily, and it isn't usually spread from human to human, there have been a small number of human infections recorded from around the world.

How can humans catch bird flu?

Bird flu, according to the NHS, is spread by close contact with an infected bird, dead or alive. This includes:

  • Touching infected birds
  • Touching droppings or bedding
  • Killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

Markets with live birds are also a hot spot so avoid these, even when travelling.

To help prevent catching bird flu, ensure you wash your hands often, especially when handing birds and poultry. Also, ensure you use different cooking equipment for raw and cooked meat.

Brown and white chickens in quarantine
All chickens and birds must be kept indoors from November 7 to help with the outbreak. Picture: Alamy

What are bird flu symptoms in humans?

Common symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly if you've been infected. These include:

  • A very high temperature
  • Feeling hot or shivery
  • Aching muscles
  • Headache
  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Conjunctivitis

It will usually take three to five days for symptoms to appear should you have been around infected birds. If you think you have the virus, call a GP or NHS 111.

Is it safe to eat chicken, poultry and eggs?

You can't catch bird flu from eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas where bird flu is prominent.

However, it is important to make sure all your food is cooked correctly, never eating undercooked meat or raw eggs.