Health Bulletin

This document was published under a previous government.

H5N1 Flu Virus Fact Sheet

NOTE: The H5N1 influenza ("avian flu") virus is different than the seasonal flu that is transmitted between humans.

For information on how to protect yourself from the seasonal flu, what to do if you get sick, and where to get the flu shot, go to

What is H5N1 flu virus?

H5N1 (commonly known as "avian flu") is an influenza virus that causes a severe respiratory infection that can spread easily and quickly among birds.

While H5N1 commonly causes sickness in birds, it can also infect people. People who contract avian influenza (H5N1) can get very ill, and more than half die from it.

Here are some important facts about H5N1 :

Does H5N1 flu virus spread human to human?

The risk of transmission between humans is very low.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been no sustained human to human or community level transmissions thus far of H5N1.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is continually monitoring the outbreaks of avian influenza H5N1 in poultry, as well as human cases in Asia and other countries.

Highly infectious avian influenza H5N1 has not been identified in birds in Canada or Ontario.

The risk posed to humans by avian influenza in birds is very low. Avian influenza does not transmit easily from birds to infect humans.

This is the first identified and confirmed case of H5N1 in North America.

What are the signs and symptoms of H5N1 flu virus in people?

The symptoms of H5N1 flu virus in people are typically similar to the symptoms of regular human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) have been reported with H5N1 flu virus infection in people. Avian flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.

Do laboratories in Ontario have the ability to detect the H5N1 virus?

Yes, laboratories in Ontario are able to detect the H5N1 virus.

As well, the public health system in Ontario and Canada is on high alert during flu season for any signs of influenza-like illness.

Does the flu shot protect against H5N1?

No. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the human flu viruses that circulate every winter. There is no H5N1 vaccine available for the public at this moment.

How is H5N1 treated? Can Antivirals be used to treat H5N1?

Cases of severe respiratory illness are taken seriously and every medical intervention is made.

Antivirals are pills used for the prevention and early treatment of influenza. If taken shortly after getting sick (within 48 hours), they can reduce influenza symptoms, shorten the length of illness and potentially reduce the serious complications of influenza. Tamiflu does work on H5N1.

These medications are generally effective against many types of influenza, but they do not provide immunity against the virus.

Is it safe to travel to countries that have had cases of H5N1?

Ontarians travelling abroad to areas where H5N1 is a concern should take the following precautions :

  1. avoid high-risk areas such as poultry farms and live animal markets;
  2. avoid unnecessary contact with birds, including chickens, ducks and wild birds;
  3. avoid surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them; and
  4. ensure that all poultry dishes are well cooked, including eggs.
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