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Avian Influenza Info

chickensHighly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)

Last updated:  April 26, 2022

On this page…

About Avian Influenza
Current Status of Avian Influenza in Ontario
Reporting Sick or Dead Birds
Precautions for Backyard Poultry
Minister’s Orders Prohibiting Comingling Events
Individuals at Risk and Personal Precautions
Information for Hunters
Food Safety Considerations
Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Humans
Additional Information

About Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza (AI) is a viral disease that affects mostly domestic poultry and wild birds such as geese, ducks, and shore birds.  Each year, there is a “bird flu” season, and some forms of the “bird flu” are worse than others.  Wild birds, especially waterfowl, are a natural reservoir for mild strains of AI.  Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is a strain first detected in Europe in 2021 and known to kill both wild birds and commercial poultry. Unfortunately it entered North America in early 2022.

Current Status of Avian Influenza in Ontario

In March 2022, HPAI H5N1 virus was detected in Ontario and has spread in wild birds, backyard and commercial poultry. This strain in many other places around the world, and is spreading rapidly through other Canadian provinces and American States.  Its spread has been primarily attributed to the migration of infected waterfowl and has a significant threat to the domestic poultry industry.  To keep up to date on the current status of avian influenza in Ontario, use the resources below:

Reporting Sick or Dead 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.

Signs of avian influenza in birds include:

  • nervousness, tremors or lack of coordination
  • swelling around the head, neck and eyes
  • lack of energy or movement
  • coughing, gasping for air or sneezing
  • diarrhea or
  • sudden death

If you observe your backyard poultry to be sick or dying, please call your veterinarian or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at 226-217-8022, 8 am to 6 pm (EST), or email

Precautions for Backyard Poultry

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has information on biosecurity principles for small flock owners. In addition, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has great information related to prevention and detection of disease in backyard flocks and pet birds.

The CFIA’s 5 tips to protecting your flock from bird flu are:

  1. Prevent contact with wild birds and other animals
  2. Frequently clean poultry coops, waterers, feeders, your clothing and your boots.
  3. Spot the signs of avian influenza and report early to a veterinarian or the CFIA.
  4. Limit exposure to visitors.
  5. Separate birds –keep birds, their water and food away from wild birds.

Minister’s Orders Prohibiting Comingling Events

The Ontario government is taking additional steps to limit the spread of avian influenza among birds in the province. Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, on the advice of the Chief Veterinarian for Ontario, has issued a Minister’s Order under the Animal Health Act, 2009, with the purpose of limiting the commingling of birds from different locations in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Individuals at Risk and Personal Precautions

The risk to the public of catching the virus from domestic poultry products is very low. There is no need to change your food consumption habits or travel plans. Most people who become infected have had close, unprotected contact with live or dead infected birds.

If you work with birds, take extra precautions if working in a region where avian influenza has been detected including monitoring yourself for respiratory symptoms and wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, including:

  • Fit-tested and seal-checked respirators (e.g., N95 or equipment with equivalent protection)
  • Eye protection (e.g., tight-fitting non-vented safety goggles)
  • Wear heavy duty rubber gloves when handling birds that can pierce skin with beak or claws, otherwise it is essential to wear rubber gloves or disposable gloves (e.g., latex or nitrile) for cleaning and sanitation procedures
  • Impervious disposable gown or coveralls
  • Disposable protective shoe/boot covers or rubber or polyurethane boots

For more information: Avian Influenza PPE Guidelines for Poultry Workers (April 2022)

Information for Hunters

It is considered safe to hunt, handle and eat healthy game birds. However, exposure to avian influenza can occur handling wild birds and waterfowl. To protect yourself, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Do not handle or eat sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes.
  • Avoid direct contact with blood, feces, and respiratory secretions of all wild birds.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Work outside whenever possible.
  • Wear a medical mask, preferably an N-95 or KN-95, when cleaning game.
  • Wear dish gloves or latex gloves when handling or cleaning game. Wash gloves, hands, and clothing with soap and warm water immediately after you have finished. Thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces on tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. Immediately remove and wash clothing that may be contaminated with blood, feces or respiratory secretions.
  • Cook pieces and cuts of game meat to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F).
  • Whole birds should be cooked to an internal temperature of 82°C (180°F).
  • If you become ill while handling birds or shortly thereafter, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.

For more information, visit:  Wild birds and avian influenza – Handling guidelines –

Food Safety Considerations

Transmission of AI 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

Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Humans

The virus does not easily cross from birds to humans.  The current strain is listed as lower than normal concern for spread to humans. Based on the studies of patients with the HPAI H5N1 virus, signs can range from very mild to severe.  The most common signs include:

  • 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 commonly, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures can occur.  Diarrhea is more common with avian influenza than with influenza due to human viruses.

Tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and if you have been around birds in the past 10 days, and especially important if you have been around sick or dead birds and did not wear any personal protective equipment. 

Additional Information

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