Avian Flu (H5N1)

Avian Influenza (AI) is a disease caused by a virus that mainly infects domestic poultry and wild birds like geese, ducks, and shore birds. As is the case for humans, there is a “bird flu” season each year, and certain strains are worse than others. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is a strain that kills both wild birds and commercial poultry.

Risk of Transmission to Humans is Low

Given that the risk of avian influenza A (H5N1) transmission to humans is low, the Ministry of Health is recommending that individuals who live or work on a farm undertake active monitoring if symptomatic and that asymptomatic individuals self-monitor for symptoms.

Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Symptoms in Humans

The symptoms of H5N1 in humans can range from very mild to severe. The most common symptoms are the following:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle and/or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures. Diarrhea is more common when infected with avian influenza than human influenza viruses.

If you have been around birds in the past 14 days (especially sick or dead birds) and did not wear any personal protective equipment, it is important to tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Specific tests to detect avian influenza in humans are available. If you do not have access to a doctor, please call Health Connect Ontario at 811.

How can I protect myself from avian influenza?

While the risk of humans contracting avian influenza is low, individuals should be cautious when handling wild birds. Generally, members of the public should avoid handling live or dead wild birds. If you cannot avoid contact with wild birds, wear gloves, or use a doubled plastic bag and avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces. You should then wash your hands with soap and warm water.

The exact mode of transmission from birds to humans is not known, but most human cases of avian influenza have been linked to direct contact with infected poultry or their droppings.

Contracting avian influenza from the consumption of undercooked eggs or poultry is unlikely, but food safety measures should always be taken when handling poultry and egg products. Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling food, to keep products separate to prevent cross-contamination, to clean and sanitize all surfaces, and to fully cook poultry products.

What should I do if my backyard poultry are sick or dying?

If your backyard poultry are sick or dying and you suspect they may have avian influenza, please call your veterinarian or your local Canadian Food Inspection Agency office (for a list of offices, click here), or email cfia.ontsurveillanceanddiagnostics-survetdiagnostiques.acia@inspection.gc.ca.

What should I do if I find dead wild birds in my backyard or in a park?

If you find a sick or dead wild bird in your backyard or in a park, please call the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781 to report the finding. If they determine that the sample is appropriate for testing, they will advise you as to how to safely collect and store the bird and will provide you with a pre-paid shipping container for submission.

If the dead bird is not being collected by authorities, then avoid handling the bird, or dispose of it in a safe manner.

For more information

For more information about avian influenza and how to prevent its spread in birds and humans, please consult the Ministry of Health’s Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza document.