Avian Influenza

Last updated:  May 3, 2022

On this page…

About Avian Influenza
Current Status of Avian Influenza in Ontario
Reporting Sick or Dead Birds
Individuals at Risk and Personal Precautions
Information for Hunters
Food Safety Considerations
Precautions for Backyard Poultry
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 known to kill both wild birds and commercial poultry.

Current Status of Avian Influenza in Ontario

In March 2022, HPAI H5N1 virus was detected in Ontario and has spread in wild, backyard and commercial poultry. This same strain of the virus has also been found in many other jurisdictions across the world, including in other Canadian provinces and American states.  Its spread has been primarily attributed to the migration of infected waterfowl.  The virus does not easily cross from birds to humans. The current strain is listed as lower than normal concern for spread to humans, but appropriate precautions need to be taken to reduce the risk. To keep up to date on the current status of avian influenza in Ontario, use the resources below:

There are a number of restrictions in place at this time for the movement of birds and/or bird products/by-products. These restrictions include:

  • Effective April 9, 2022 the province enacted a provincial order that prohibits the movement to and participation of birds in events where they commingle, such as shows, sales, swaps, fairs, sport and educational displays.
  • When a bird is found positive with avian influenza, the property/farm is deemed an infected site and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will define a “control zone” perimeter around the site to prohibit the movement of birds, eggs, and poultry products in, out, and through the zone unless there is a special permit granted (click here to see the maps of the zones). Anyone who needs assistance with protocols and permits in these zones should call the CFIA at 519-953-6658, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (EST), or email ontmovementlicandpermits-deplacementlicenceetpermis.acia@inspection.gc.ca

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 cfia.ontsurveillanceanddiagnostics-survetdiagnostiques.acia@inspection.gc.ca.

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

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 – Canada.ca

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

Precautions for Backyard Poultry

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

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.

Symptoms of Avian Influenza in 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.  For more information, you may contact our office at 705-743-1000.

Additional Information