Avian Influenza

What is Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza refers to disease in birds caused by infection with avian influenza Type A viruses. Avian influenza A viruses have been isolated from more than 100 different species of wild birds around the world. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect poultry and other bird species.

Avian influenza viruses can be broadly classified into 2 types, based on the severity of the illness caused in birds:

  • low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) - typically cause little or no signs of illness in infected birds.
  • highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) - can cause severe illness and death in birds.

Individuals at Risk and Personal Precautions

Avian Influenza does not typically pass from birds to humans, and the current strain of the virus has been listed as lower than normal concern for spread to people. No domestically acquired human cases of HPAI H5N1 have ever been reported in Canada.

Most human cases of avian influenza have been traced to unprotected direct contact with infected birds or surfaces heavily contaminated with avian influenza viruses.

Individuals having unprotected direct contact with infected birds or surfaces heavily contaminated with avian influenza viruses should self-monitor for symptoms of avian influenza for 14 days after their last exposure to the infected birds or contaminated environmental surfaces.

What are the human symptoms for Avian Influenza?

Symptoms of avian influenza are similar to those of seasonal influenza and may include: fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, red/watery eyes, or difficulty breathing.

If symptoms develop and you have had exposure to an infected bird or premise, contact your health care provider to arrange testing. Individual should notify their health care provider of their exposure history and symptoms in advance to ensure that appropriate precautions can be put in place.

Where have cases of Avian Influenza in birds been reported?

The HPAI H5N1 virus was first detected in Ontario in wild and commercial poultry in March 2022. This same strain of the virus has also been found in eight other provinces and as well in 24 US states. Its spread has been primarily attributed to the migration of infected waterfowl.

Reporting Sick or Dead Birds

It is very important that people avoid handling live or dead wild birds. If you see a wild bird, including waterfowl, that is sick, injured or dead, do not touch it. Report any sick or dead birds (including waterfowl), to the Ontario Regional Centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-866-673-4781 in Ontario or 1-877-346-6763 in Quebec or online at cwha.rcsf.ca.

Food Safety Considerations

Transmission of avian influenza to people from the consumption of undercooked eggs or poultry is unlikely. As a general practice, food safety measures should always be practiced when handling poultry and egg products such as:

  • Wash hands before and after handling poultry and egg products for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water
  • Keep poultry and egg products separate from other food products to prevent cross-contamination
  • Clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water and a household sanitizer (e.g. bleach and water solution)
  • Cook poultry pieces to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) and whole poultry to 82°C (180°F); use a probe thermometer to confirm cooking temperatures.

Avian influenza in pet birds

It is very difficult for your pet bird to catch avian influenza if you take sensible precautions such as keeping birds, food, and water bowls indoors. Pet birds that are kept indoors are unlikely to have any contact with wild birds. As well, take precautions not to introduce any material, food or clothing that may be contaminated by wild birds.

Resource Links

Ministry of Health - Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza Frequently Asked Questions (April 2022)

World Health Organization (WHO) – Human health information

World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) – Animal health information

Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) – Domestic birds

Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) – Domestic birds

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) – Wild birds

Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) – Wild birds

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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