How do people become infected?
Direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces, is presently considered the main route of human infection
. To date, most human cases have occurred in rural or periurban areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of virus in their faeces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions. Moreover, because many households in Asia depend on poultry for income and food, many families sell or slaughter and consume birds when signs of illness appear in a flock, and this practice has proved difficult to change. Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, defeathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking.
Is it safe to eat poultry and poultry products?
Yes, though certain precautions should be followed in countries currently experiencing outbreaks. In areas free of the disease, poultry and poultry products can be prepared and consumed as usual (following good hygienic practices and proper cooking
), with no fear of acquiring infection with the H5N1 virus.
In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can also be safely consumed provided these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation
. The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70o
C in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).
Consumers should also be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. Juices from raw poultry and poultry products should never be allowed, during food preparation, to touch or mix with items eaten raw. When handling raw poultry or raw poultry products, persons involved in food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.
In areas experiencing outbreaks in poultry, raw eggs should not be used in foods that will not be further heat-treated as, for example by cooking or baking.
Avian influenza is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the H5N1 virus.