Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Humans

The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is monitoring a multi-state outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in dairy cows in the United States. This is the first time that H5N1 bird flu has been found in cows.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that there are no reported cases of H5N1 bird flu in cows or humans in West Virginia. The County Health Department is also frequently receiving wastewater testing results for H5N1 bird flu. No H5N1 bird flu has been detected in wastewater samples at the City of Wheeling’s Water Treatment Plant, which serves all of Ohio County. The current risk to the general public from H5N1 bird flu is low.

For more information including the number of reported human H5N1 cases in the United States, visit the CDC’s H5N1 Bird Flu: Current Situation Summary webpage.

About H5N1

Avian influenza A viruses—also called “bird flu”—usually spread between birds and other animals they encounter. It is rare for bird flu to spread to humans.

Currently, the bird flu virus spreading in the United States and globally is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N1)—referred to below as “H5N1 bird flu.” The current risk to public health is low. 

  • H5N1 bird flu is mainly affecting animal health.
  • There is no known human-to-human spread.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health departments are monitoring the situation.
  • The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department is prepared to respond if there are human exposures to H5N1 bird flu in Ohio County or if the risk to public health increases.

How it spreads

Bird flu infections in people are most often from:

  • Close or prolonged contact with infected birds or other animals (including dairy cows and other livestock) without gloves or other protective gear.
  • Spending time in environments contaminated by infected birds or other animals.


Symptoms of bird flu infections in people have ranged from mild (eye infection, upper respiratory symptoms) to severe illness (pneumonia) that have resulted in death in other countries.

Signs and Symptoms may include:

  • Fever (temperature of 100°F [37.8°C] or greater) or feeling feverish (fever may not always be present)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Conjunctivitis (eye tearing, redness, irritation, or discharge from eye)
  • Headaches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures (less common)


  • Observe wild birds and other animals only from a distance. Do not touch wildlife or animals that may be sick or are dead.
  • Wash your hands and wear personal protective equipment if you work directly or closely with sick or dead animals, animal feces, litter, raw milk, and other materials that might have the virus. See how to protect yourself when working with farm animals (CDC)
  • If you drink milk, make sure it is pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process of heating liquids to high temperatures for a short time. This process kills harmful germs that can make you sick, including the H5N1 bird flu virus that can infect dairy cows. Pasteurization does not affect the milk’s taste or nutritional value. Raw milk is not pasteurized and is not recommended for drinking or cooking. More on milk safety during bird flu outbreaks (FDA)
  • Cooking ground beef to FSIS recommended temperatures inactivates the influenza A(H5N1) virus.


You may be prescribed flu antiviral medicines if you get sick after being exposed to birds or other animals that are or might be infected with bird flu. These medicines can make your symptoms milder and not as long-lasting. It’s important to take the medication as directed as soon as possible. Seasonal flu vaccines do not protect against bird flu viruses.