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Avian flu (bird flu)

As the bird flu (avian flu) virus is carried by birds, it's very difficult to prevent it spreading. However, there are some general measures you can take.

As the bird flu (avian flu) virus is carried by birds, it's very difficult to prevent it spreading. However, there are some general measures you can take to reduce your risk of catching a viral infection.

General precautions

To reduce your risk of catching and passing on viral infections, such as flu, always ensure you:

  • wash your hands regularly, particularly before and after handling food
  • turn away from other people and cover your mouth with tissues when you cough or sneeze
  • dispose of tissues immediately after use and wash your hands with soap and warm water
  • avoid public places if you're ill 
  • tell the receptionist at your GP surgery about your symptoms so you can be seated away from other people and given a surgical mask if necessary
  • make sure you maintain a good level of general health and have any recommended vaccinations, such as the pneumococcal vaccination and seasonal flu vaccine, if you're in a high-risk group – for example, if you have a long-term illness such as asthma or you're 65 or over

Contact with birds

You can feed wild birds and ducks, but it's important to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Don't go near sick or dead birds. Keep away from bird droppings if possible and wash your hands thoroughly if you accidentally touch any.

Call the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) helpline on 08459 33 55 77 if you find five or more dead birds in the same place.

If you come across between one and four dead birds, Defra advises leaving them alone or disposing of them carefully. See the Defra website for guidelines on disposing of dead birds.


In general, you don't need to change the way you look after your pets. If you have a dog that sometimes catches wild birds, try to avoid areas where this is likely to happen. In theory, the H5N1 bird flu strain can be passed on to other animals, but it's very unlikely.

If you have a pet bird, you should avoid letting it have any contact with wild birds or wild bird droppings.


If you're travelling in a country that's had an outbreak of bird flu, don't go to live animal markets or poultry farms.

Don't go near bird droppings or dead birds, and don't bring live birds or poultry products back to the UK with you, including feathers.

The NHS has plans in place to manage a potential outbreak of bird flu in the UK, although such an outbreak is considered highly unlikely.

Preparing meat

Bird flu isn't transmitted through cooked food. It's safe to eat poultry and eggs in areas that have had outbreaks of bird flu.

As a precaution, always ensure good hygiene standards when preparing and cooking meat. For example:

  • use different utensils for cooked and raw meat
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after handling meat
  • ensure that meat is thoroughly cooked and piping hot before serving

Read more about bird flu and food.

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