Your Bird Flu Questions, Answered
Commonly known as “bird flu,” influenza virus outbreaks in wild birds and poultry are prevalent. Humans are not immune to becoming infected. Although human infections tend to be less frequent, it is important that we continually study these viruses. The potential for viruses to rapidly evolve can affect public health risk.
Read below to find answers to frequently asked questions about avian influenza.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza, or bird flu, refers to the disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Bird flu viruses do not normally infect humans, but sporadic human infections have occurred.
How is avian influenza transmitted?
Wild waterfowl and other species shed the virus into the environment through their oral and nasal secretions and feces.
Wild birds that carry bird flu viruses include waterbirds, like ducks, geese and swans, and shorebirds, like storks. Bird flu viruses can easily spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys. Some wild birds can carry bird flu viruses without appearing sick, but poultry, like chickens and turkeys, can get very sick and die from some bird flu viruses.
If you raise backyard poultry or ducks, your birds can get bird flu if they have contact with infected wild birds or share food, sources of water, and environments with them. Most common songbirds or other birds found in the yard, like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows, or pigeons, do not usually carry viruses that are dangerous to poultry or people.
What should I do about my bird feeders?
Per the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bird feeders are unlikely to result in increased spread of avian influenza since the species of bird that tend to come to feeders are not commonly infected. However feeders should be cleaned routinely with 9 parts water and 1 part bleach with a course brush. Then rinsed and dried out before refilling.
What should the general public do to protect themselves against bird flu?
As a general precaution, people should avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance, if possible. Wild birds can be infected with viruses without appearing sick. If possible, avoid contact with poultry that appear ill or have died. Avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds, if possible.
As a reminder, it is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry and poultry products in the United States. The proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including bird flu viruses.
Can people get the avian influenza virus? How is it spread?
Human infections with bird flu viruses are rare but can occur, usually after close contact with infected birds. The current risk to the general public from bird flu viruses is low; however, it is important to remember that risk depends on exposure, and people with more exposure might have a greater risk of infection.
There is existing federal guidance around bird flu exposures for different groups of people, including people with occupational or recreational exposure, such as hunters, poultry producers and for the general public at the CDC website Frequently Asked Questions about Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) | Avian Influenza (Flu) (cdc.gov).
Currently there are no cases of avian influenza in Missouri. There has only been one case in the USA in April 2022. No one in the USA has died of avian influenza.
Should I be concerned about my pets?
Although H5 bird flu viruses primarily infect different types of wild birds and domestic poultry, they CAN infect other animals as well. Sporadic H5N1 virus infections of mammals have been reported for 20 years in different countries that have experienced H5N1 outbreaks in poultry or wild birds.
H5 bird flu viruses have previously been known to occasionally infect mammals that eat (presumably infected) birds or poultry and mammals that are exposed to environments with a high concentration of virus. These mammals include, but are not limited to, wild or feral animals such as foxes; stray or domestic animals such as cats and dogs; and zoo animals.
There is little evidence in the past of bird flu viruses spreading to people via an intermediary animal.
Whom do I call if I find a dead bird in my yard?
If you find several dead birds/ducks in your area that died of unknown causes, you can call the Missouri Department of Conservation at 816-622-0900. This is the local department for our region of Missouri. They will determine if the birds need to be tested and will arrange for them to be picked up. One bird is not sufficient for testing. Avian flu generally impacts several birds at a time.
Do not handle them with bare hands. Instead, use gloves to collect them, double bag the specimens, and keep in a cool place. Heat can destroy the virus and make it not suitable for testing. Avoid any pets that may have exposure to these birds.
What does Jackson County Health Department do for avian influenza cases?
People who have been exposed to birds/ducks that tested positive for flu are contacted by a disease investigator. They will monitor the individual daily for signs and symptoms of influenza for 10 days. So far, no contacts that have been monitored by Jackson County Health Department have developed signs of avian flu.
Information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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