Avian Influenza

Avian influenza (AI), sometimes called ‘avian flu’ or ‘bird flu’, is a contagious viral disease that affects many domestic and wild bird species, 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.

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

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 2023

H5N1, an HPAI strain, continues to spread in wild bird populations across the globe and presents a significant national concern as birds migrate to Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is currently responding to cases of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in farmed birds across Canada. The CFIA continues to remind anyone with animal farms, specifically poultry or other susceptible birds, 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 H5N1 avian influenza have also been recently reported in other animal species besides wild birds, such as foxes, skunks and mink, and animals who may eat infected birds. Although bird flu 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 also 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 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 has to be handled, gloves should be worn and the dead bird placed in a plastic bag.

Manitobans are asked to contact 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;
  • any number of dead raptors or avian scavengers (e.g., ravens, crows, gulls); or
  • large groups of dead birds, such as more than 20 of any species.

Quick facts on H5N1 avian influenza (bird flu):

  • The risk of human-to-human spread of H5N1 avian influenza 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 chest pain,
    • eye infections and bleeding gums,
    • serious respiratory infections, including pneumonia and difficulty breathing.
  • 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 seek care immediately and inform 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.

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;
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water. 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 birds (alive or dead), including chickens, ducks and wild birds;
  • Pets should be kept away from sick or dead wildlife;
  • Avoid surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them; and
  • Ensure that all poultry dishes and eggs are well cooked: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-safety/food-related-illnesses/food-specific-information/poultry-safety.html.

Helpful Links and Resources

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Animal Health

Public Health | Environmental Health
Manitoba Health

4th Floor - 300 Carlton St.
Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9
Phone: 204-788-6735
Fax: 204-948-2040