Avian Influenza

Avian influenza (AI), sometimes called ‘avian flu’ or ‘bird flu’, is a contagious viral disease caused by a type A influenza virus. These viruses naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Most recently in the United States, avian influenza has been found in livestock with outbreaks occurring in dairy cattle.

There are many strains of AI virus, generally classified into two categories:

  • Low pathogenic (LPAI) strains typically cause few or no clinical signs in poultry and may go undetected due to a lack of disease in some species of birds,
  • Highly pathogenic (HPAI) strains can cause severe clinical signs and potentially high mortality rates among poultry or other animals.

Avian influenza viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with avian influenza viruses have occurred. Human-to-human transmission of avian influenza is extremely rare.

Avian Influenza H5N1 Update May 2024

H5N1, an HPAI strain of avian influenza, referred to as HPAI A(H5N1), is widespread in wild bird populations across the globe and presents a significant national concern as birds migrate each spring and fall. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continues to respond to cases of HPAI A(H5N1) in farmed birds across Canada and reminds anyone with animal farms, including poultry or other susceptible birds and livestock farms, to practice good biosecurity habits to protect them from infectious animal diseases.

Comprehensive surveillance of these viruses in wild birds, poultry, mammals and people worldwide continues. Globally, sporadic cases of HPAI A(H5N1) have been reported in other animal species besides wild birds, such as foxes, skunks and mink, and other animals who may eat infected birds. More recently, HPAI A(H5N1) was discovered in dairy cattle in the United States. Although avian influenza viruses normally do not infect humans, they can cause a wide range of illnesses, from mild to severe illness. Avian influenza virus infections in humans are of public health concern because of the potential for the virus to change to spread more easily from person-to-person.

If you suspect your birds or other animals have HPAI, contact a veterinarian to determine if further action is needed, or Manitoba Agriculture for provincial advice: https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-health/update-avian-influenza-in-north-america.html

Although the risk of transmission of avian influenza to humans is low, people should not touch dead birds or other wildlife with their bare hands. Protective eyewear and masks/N95 respirators are recommended as an additional precaution. Hands should be thoroughly washed before and after with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If a dead bird or other animal must be handled, gloves should be worn and the dead animal should be placed in a plastic bag.

Manitobans are asked to contact a conservation officer in their local district office or call the TIP Line (toll-free) at 1-800-782-0076 if they find any of the following:

  • clusters of six or more dead wild waterfowl (e.g., ducks, geese) or other water birds,
  • clusters of six or more dead wild waterfowl (e.g., ducks, geese) or other water birds,
  • large groups of dead birds, such as more than 20 of any species.

Quick facts on H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI A(H5N1)):

  • The risk of human-to-human spread of HPAI A(H5N1) is low. The symptoms of avian influenza in humans can resemble those of human influenza, including:
    • Fever, cough, aching muscles, headache and sore throat.
    • Other early symptoms, mainly related to H5N1, may include diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting.
    • Eye irritation such as redness, eye pain/burning, and tearing.
    • Shortness of breath, serious respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia), altered mental status and seizures in severe cases.
  • In rare cases, the infection may be severe, leading to multi-organ failure and death.
  • Individuals who have close, prolonged, and unprotected (no gloves, mask/N95 respirator, or other protective wear) contact should monitor for symptoms for 10 to 14 days after working or being exposed in an area where the avian influenza virus has been detected. If symptoms occur, they should isolate, and notify their health care provider of their exposure to avian influenza so they can receive the appropriate testing and treatment.
  • HPAI is not a food safety concern. There is no evidence to suggest that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans.
  • Only drink pasteurized milk. Pasteurization of milk kills harmful bacteria and viruses (including influenza) while retaining the nutritional properties of milk. Pasteurization ensures the milk we drink is safe.

If you are living (or have travelled) to an area where avian influenza (H5N1) is present:

  • Get a flu vaccine. Seasonal influenza vaccination will not prevent infection with avian influenza viruses but can reduce the risk of getting sick with human and avian influenza viruses at the same time. If a person is infected with both avian and human strains of influenza virus at the same time, it is possible that the virus could change and spread more easily from person to person.
  • Follow all general public health recommendations to prevent illness and infection including covering your cough, frequent hand washing with soap and water and staying home when you are sick. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can also be used if soap and water are not available. It is a good idea to always keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you when you travel.
  • Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette;
  • Avoid high-risk areas such as poultry farms and live animal markets.
  • Avoid unnecessary contact with livestock, birds, or other animals (alive or dead), including chickens, ducks and wild birds; sick and dead birds or animals pose the greatest risk for avian flu transmission.
  • Pets should be kept away from sick or dead wildlife.
  • Avoid surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them.
  • Ensure that all poultry dishes and eggs are well cooked, and only drink pasteurized milk.

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