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Understanding the current Avian Influenza Outbreaks

Understanding the current Avian Influenza Outbreaks

Our birds are facing outbreaks of avian influenza, also known as bird flu. BirdNote has compiled a list of commonly asked questions about the disease and practical things you can do to help stop the transmission of avian influenza. This is a developing story and we will update this post periodically as more information becomes available.

What is highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)?
In North America, a new strain of avian influenza virus was first detected in wild birds in late 2021. Soon after, the disease spread to commercial poultry flocks. Wild birds, commercial poultry, and backyard domestic birds are all at risk of becoming infected. The strain of avian influenza currently causing outbreaks is highly contagious and easily transmitted, so it is often referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI.

How is HPAI affecting bird populations?
Not all infected birds show signs of infection, so a bird can transmit the disease while appearing healthy. However, HPAI can cause serious illness or death. HPAI has been found in over 40 species of wild birds — mostly waterfowl, other species found in aquatic habitats such as gulls and shorebirds, and raptors. In some places, large numbers of wild birds have died from HPAI. Currently, HPAI is uncommon in songbirds, although there have been confirmed cases among crows and jays.

Common symptoms of HPAI in infected birds include “swimming or walking in circles, holding the head or neck in an unnatural position, the inability to smoothly rotate or tilt the head, and difficulty flying,” according to Audubon Great Lakes.

Some regions have had larger outbreaks of HPAI than others — you can see a map of the distribution of avian influenza in North America from the U.S. Geological Survey of reported cases here. It’s best to look for updates from local/regional authorities in your area for specific info and guidance on HPAI. 

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