H5N1 influenza: An influenza A virus subtype that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can be deadly to them. Outbreaks of avian influenza H5N1 occurred among poultry in eight countries in Asia during late 2003 and early 2004. At that time, more than 100 million birds in the affected countries either died from the disease or were killed in order to try to control the outbreaks. Since this outbreak, the virus has spread geographically. Reports of H5N1 infection in wild birds in Europe began in mid-2005. In early 2006, influenza A H5N1 infection in wild birds and poultry were reported in Africa and the Near East.
Human cases of influenza A (H5N1) infection have been reported in several countries. Although H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, since November 2003 nearly 400 cases of human infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have been reported by more than a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe, and the Near East. Most of these cases have occurred from direct or close contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 virus have occurred.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have never been detected among wild birds, domestic poultry, or people in the United States. Thus far, spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been rare, but because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.