Avian influenza virus (AIV) is the causative agent of a zoonotic disease that affects populations worldwide with often devastating economic and health consequences. Most AIV subtypes cause little or no disease in waterfowl, but outbreaks in poultry can be associated with high mortality. Although transmission of AIV to humans occurs rarely and is strain dependent, the virus has the ability to mutate or reassort into a form that triggers a life-threatening infection. The constant emergence of new influenza strains makes it particularly challenging to predict the behavior, spread, virulence or potential for human-to-human transmission. Because it is difficult to anticipate which viral strain or what location will initiate the next pandemic, it is difficult to prepare for that event. However, rigorous implementation of biosecurity, vaccination and education programs can minimize the threat of AIV. Global surveillance programs help record and identify newly evolving and potentially pandemic strains harbored by the reservoir host.