What is influenza?

Influenza (flu) is a potentially life threatening illness. It is a contagious disease of the respiratory tract caused by influenza viruses. Each year, influenza causes serious infection and death around the globe, usually in the winter months (seasonal influenza).

Most people only suffer a self-limiting illness due to their pre-existing immunity, lasting from a few days to several weeks. Influenza can lead to complications and for some people – the elderly, people with poor immune systems — influenza can be a significant disease and cause death. It can also cause the death of healthy adults and children.

Avian influenza

There are many types of influenza viruses that usually only infect birds; these are called avian influenza viruses. Very rarely, an avian influenza virus can also infect people.

Australians travelling to areas affected by avian influenza can reduce their risk of infection by:

  • avoiding situations where they may come into contact with infected birds, including live bird markets;
  • ensuring all uncooked poultry and eggs are handled hygienically with careful attention to hand washing after handling;
  • ensuring all poultry and eggs are cooked thoroughly before eating (proper cooking destroys the virus in poultry and eggs).

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