Bird flu found across Virginia expected to increase, but poses low risk to humans

A bird flu virus – a Eurasian strain of H5N1 – that has been spreading across the country has a low risk of infecting people. The virus, also called avian flu, was first found in wild birds, commercial poultry and backyard flocks in January 2022. It has infected several million wild and domestic birds across the country (and the continent) and is still being found. The number of infections is expected to grow during the winter..   

Bird owners should review their biosecurity steps and stay aware to protect poultry and pet birds from this disease. Get more information from the USDA’s Defend the Flock Program.

Usually, the virus causes illness and death in birds, but doesn’t cause wildlife to get sick. In this outbreak, large wild birds such as vultures and Canada geese have died off across the country. Some mammals such as foxes and otters have been infected, but that hasn’t been seen often. 

People who need to dispose of dead birds should wear appropriate clothing and protective equipment (PPE), including eye protection, a well-fitting mask, gloves, and protective outer clothing (gown or coveralls). The level of PPE needed may depend on the situation. Workers who deal with a large number of sick or dead birds should wear PPE and follow instructions from their agency. A situation with a large number of dead wild birds can be reported to the Department of Wildlife Resources through their wildlife helpline: 1-855-571-9003. This helpline is staffed Monday-Friday during normal business hours.

People who have direct contact with infected animals that are dead or may be sick, including sick animals that might have eaten birds infected with avian flu, should watch for symptoms that include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing/shortness of breath, conjunctivitis (eye tearing, redness, irritation, or discharge from eyes), headaches, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea. You may not have a fever. Anyone who is sick  within 10 days of exposure to an animal that may be infected should call their local health department and get tested if needed.

So far, this virus has been detected in millions of birds. With close monitoring of people who have been in contact with infected birds, only one person has tested positive for this virus. This person had direct exposure to infected poultry, was mildly sick and has recovered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to test for and watch this virus and other similar viruses. Right now, officials haven’t found any evidence that this virus could cause a pandemic.

More avian flu information and resources are available at the links below.