A new strain of Avian influenza that was present in Europe, only last year, is reported in the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

It is another highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strain.

Bird flu strains rarely infect humans, with fewer than 1,000 U.S. cases per year, according to the Mayo Clinic. The strains of the influenza virus mainly infect birds. The public must not handle sick or dead birds. People should report sightings of birds killed to wildlife officials.

Human infections typically result from person-to-person contacts, such as a cough or a sneeze, in two to eight days, with flu-like symptoms.

The HPAI virus is not easily transmissible from birds to people. Still, health officials are concerned it could develop into another form that spreads readily from person to person, triggering another pandemic.

Samples collected by USDA’s Wildlife Services in January from hunter-harvested blue-winged teal in Palm Beach County, FL, tested positive for the HPAI strain: H5N1 Eurasian.

The Flordia finding follows reports in the other southern states during the  fall and winter months of 2021-22. The strain first appeared in Europe in 2021.

Wildlife Services is monitoring bird kills for HPAI strains.  

According to USDA, wild birds can carry multiple strains of the avian influenza viruses, most of which do not cause disease.

Transmission of low pathogenic strains cause minimal signs of disease in domestic poultry and can result in changes in the virus and the formation of more highly pathogenic strains, which can cause significant illness in domestic poultry.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigates mortality events involving wild bird populations by monitoring and investigating reports of wild bird die-offs. 

Wild birds involved in die-offs will be collected, examined, and tested for Avian Influenza, West Nile Virus, Exotic Newcastle’s Disease, and other infectious agents of concern.

Hunters or people feeding birds aren’t likely to contract the HPAI virus from wild birds; there are common sense precautions to reduce the risk of contracting any disease from wildlife including:

  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are sick or found dead.
  • Wear rubber gloves while cleaning game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning the game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipe immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Separate raw meat and anything it touches from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
  • Cook game birds and poultry thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to kill disease organisms and parasites.

Finally, keep domestic poultry from direct or indirect contact with wild birds, especially waterfowl.

For more detailed guidelines concerning the handling of wild birds, please see the USDA Guidance for Hunters.

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