Avian Influenza: Physicians

FAQs for our physician colleagues

Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green). Photo Credit: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith

Q: Which subtypes have been identified in the USA?

A: For information about surveillance for and detection of avian influenza, see the USDA’s Avian Influenza Disease web page.

Q: Are there vaccines available to protect people against avian influenza?

A: Avian influenza (AI) vaccines used in poultry are developed, tested, and licensed for poultry only. AI vaccines for poultry should not be administered to people. However, an avian influenza vaccine for people, specifically the H5N1 subtype, is maintained in the national stockpile for use by public health authorities, should it be necessary.

The best way to prevent becoming infected with avian influenza is to avoid exposure to the virus. Most human cases of avian influenza have been the result of direct or close contact with poultry. Antiviral drugs may be prescribed to prevent infection in someone who has been exposed to influenza viruses.
Vaccines can be developed for administration to people to protcect against specific strains of avian influenza viruses. The U.S. government maintains vaccine against avian influenza H5N1 in a national emergency stockpile. The CDC provides this description of the process for developing human vaccines for highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Q:  Should I provide antivirals prophylactically for hunters?

A: We are not aware of any valid reason for prescribing antiviral prophylaxis at this time, even for those in potentially higher risk groups (including hunters). Doing so may be in conflict with recommendations issued by a number of public health experts. However, hunting certainly can present risks to various zoonotic diseases. AVMA maintains a Disease Precautions for Hunters resource that may be helpful.

Q: My patient thinks his dog or cat died from highly pathogenic avian influenza virus infection. What do I do? Whom do I call?

A: The pet's veterinarian should be contacted immediately in order to alert state animal health officials, state public health officials, and USDA promptly. Appropriate confirmatory testing can be recommended by authorities to the owner. If confirmed, appropriate authorities will likely have been alerted by the confirming laboratory. If infection is not confirmed, but the patient insists that his companion animal was infected, or the patient will not agree to seek the assistance of his veterinarian, the physician should contact local public health authorities.

Q: My patient has an animal diagnosed with or suspected of having highly pathogenic avian influenza virus infection. Should the family be quarantined? Should the children be allowed to go to school?

A: If the animal is any form of poultry, water fowl, or livestock, then the state's department of agriculture or the USDA [1-866-536-7593] likely would have already been notified so that follow up and a possible investigation could be conducted. If warranted by the initial findings of the animal health investigation, public health officials will be notified and will work with animal health officials to make appropriate recommendations for protection of human health, as well as control and elimination of the disease. Whether quarantine is or is not appropriate for that particular situation will be included in those recommendations.

Q: Where do I look for additional information and resources?

A: Links to Information about Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza: General FAQ
American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP)
Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV)
Department of Health and Human Services: Pandemic Flu and Avian Influenza
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO) Avian Influenza Resource