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Injury Prevention and Safety

Can a Person Catch Bird Flu from Eating Poultry?

Bird flu might be a topic around the holiday table, but you don't have to worry about catching it from your dinner plate. The cause for concern, Asian bird flu, has not been seen in the United States yet, and it is not a food-borne disease anyway.

Asian bird flu is getting a lot of press these days. And for good reason: It is a highly pathogenic form of avian influenza and can be lethal for both birds and the few people -- about 125 so far -- that it has been known to infect.

Still, as seriously as health experts take the bird flu, none think of it as a food-borne illness. It is a group of flu viruses that infect birds. In fact, these viruses occur naturally in wild birds, which carry the bugs in their intestines but usually don't get sick from them. The current concern relates to the virus' spread to domesticated poultry flocks -- chicken, turkey and duck -- mainly in Asia but spreading into Eastern Europe and beyond.

Humans who are at risk have direct contact with affected poultry. Infected birds shed the virus through their feces, and that is mainly how the virus spreads. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, de-feathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking. It is contact with live or recently slaughtered birds that puts people at risk.

It's worth noting that in 2003, the avian flu virus was found in some frozen duck meat shipped from China to Japan. However, such an occurrence is highly unusual, and heat destroys the virus, anyway. So, experts say usual, proper preparation and cooking -- which is always recommended to protect against harmful bacteria -- also protect against the flu virus. Remember:

World health experts are keeping watch for signs that the bird flu virus mutates, allowing easy spread from human to human -- that's when avian flu could reach pandemic proportions. But even then, properly cooked poultry would be safe to eat.

This article originally appeared in Chow Line (11/20/05), a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2005.

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Last Reviewed: Dec 01, 2005

Y Mohamed Saif, DVM, PhD Y Mohamed Saif, DVM, PhD
Professor of Food Animal Health
Assistant Dean of Veterinary Medicine Administration
Professor of Animal Sciences
Professor of Veterinary Preventive Medicine
College of Veterinary Medicine
The Ohio State University