Bird Flu Bad News for Humans Who Are Actually Birds

The recent discovery of a wild mallard testing positive for bird flu H5N2 has alarmed some Oregon citizens. However, state wildlife officials have announced that the virus poses no risk to humans.

It’s Called “Bird Flu,” After All

Though it has affected a fair number of birds in the Pacific Northwest in the past few months, H5N2 is not communicable to humans. One of over 140 various strains of bird flu, a.k.a. avian influenza, H5N2 cannot affect humans the way H5N1 can. That strain is the first “bird flu” that appeared in the 21st century roughly a decade ago and which continues to pop up in Europe, Africa, and Asia (no H5N1 infections have been reported in the US, ever).

H5N2 poses so little threat to humans that meat of birds infected with the virus can be eaten with no ill effect. Duck’s back on the menu, boys!

Seriously. Don't.

Seriously. Don’t.

Colin Gillin, an Oregon state wildlife veterinarian, stated that additional testing will likely provide evidence of many more confirmed cases of H5N2 and its cousin H5N8. Bird flu, Gillin noted, is quite common in waterfowl, particularly geese and ducks, though they rarely experience any symptoms or sickness.

Falconers & Chicken Farmers Beware

Falconers and anyone raising chickens or other poultry should beware, however. Both H5N2 and H5N8 can sicken and even kill falcons and domestic fowl. Having contracted the virus, hundreds of chickens, turkey, ducks, and guinea fowl in Washington had to be euthanized earlier this month. One flock of backyard chickens in Oregon has been stricken by H5N8, as well.

Domestic poultry should be prevented from coming into contact with wild waterfowl—no drinking from or bathing in bodies of water where wild birds are or have been present, keeping food sources secured, and isolating sick birds. Falconers are asked to avoid feeding wild waterfowl meat to their birds. The virus affects falcons differently than it does poultry and fowl, but in all species, sick birds should be fairly easy to spot.

“It’s a big concern,” Gillin stated, “particularly for backyard poultry producers, of which we have a lot in western Oregon.” Gillin that domesticated birds have tested positive for bird flu in Northern California, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Unfortunately, many more are expected soon, and, Gillin says, once birds start exhibiting symptoms, “they die fairly quickly.”

If you encounter a sick domestic bird, or have experience an unexplained death amongst your flock, please contact the US Department of Agriculture (866-536-7593) or the state veterinarian (800-347-7028). For sick wild birds, please contact the Audubon Society of Portland (503-292-0304), or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at 866-968-2600 or wildlifehealth@state.or.us.

Photo credit: hugovk / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA