Is It Safe to Eat Runny Eggs Right Now?

With the recent H5N1 bird flu outbreaks dominating the headlines, you might be a little wary of those runny eggs on your toast. After all, despite its name, the virus can affect more than chickens, swans, ducks, and geese: Humans can get sick too.

And there’s good reason to be cautious. Data suggests bird flu can be highly lethal in people, Scott Roberts, MD, an infectious diseases expert and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. Of the 889 human bird flu cases reported from January 2003 to May 2024, 463 were fatal, putting the chances of dying from it at around 50%. (However, Dr. Roberts adds, it’s possible that mortality rate could be inflated due to asymptomatic or unreported infections—and as SELF reported previously, the few folks infected in this latest wave seemed to mostly develop mild symptoms.)

Still, with that 50% figure in mind, you’re probably wondering if you should avoid all things poultry from here on out. Delicious (and Instagrammable) as they are, runny eggs could pose a particular threat, since they’re by definition not quite cooked. So does that mean over-easy, poached, sunny-side up, and soft-boiled eggs are off the table (or should be)? SELF connected with some experts to find out more about the health risks of eating runny eggs—both in regard to bird flu and otherwise.

Can you get bird flu from runny eggs?

If all this has you spooked, we have some reassuring news: The risk of bird flu posed by eating runny eggs is realistically pretty low—and maybe even nonexistent, according to Dr. Roberts. For one, federal authorities screen flocks for bird flu, so the eggs available at the supermarket aren’t likely to have been produced by an infected bird, Dr. Roberts says. Another reason? Respiratory viruses like H5N1 are transmitted most efficiently via respiratory routes—think someone coughing or sneezing on you—so orally ingesting an infected item could be a dead end for the bug in your system, Dr. Roberts explains. That means it might not even be possible to get sick that way, he says.

That said, we don’t know for sure, according to Dr. Roberts, so the principle of “better safe than sorry” still applies. “I wouldn’t recommend taking a chance,” Dr. Roberts says, about eating eggs undercooked. After all, the situation is rapidly changing, and many questions remain, especially about transmission.

Okay, but you can still get sick from runny eggs, right?

Absolutely. While bird flu might be a hot topic at the moment, it’s actually not the primary health risk posed by undercooked eggs. Birds can carry salmonella bacteria, and those icky germs can spread from the chickens to the inside and outer shells of their eggs. So when you eat a runny yolk that also happens to be contaminated with salmonella, you can get sick, Wade Syers, MS, a food safety specialist at Michigan State University Extension, tells SELF.

Salmonella infection certainly isn’t fun, and it could be serious too, Syers says. Symptoms usually begin between six hours to six days after ingesting the bug, and they can include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and stomach cramps. In severe cases, you may even need to be hospitalized, he says. This risk for severe infection is particularly high for kids five years old and under, adults over 65, and folks with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC.

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