Avian Influenza

Avian flu is something that all bird owners should be aware of given the seriousness of the disease.

There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease in people (i.e., flu season) almost every winter in Canada. Influenza A viruses are the only influenza viruses known to cause global epidemics of flu disease. Avian Influenza, also known as “bird flu”, is caused by the Type A influenza virus. Avian Influenza viruses are maintained in wild bird populations, particularly waterfowl, and are of particular concern given the risk of spread to humans, pet birds, poultry, and other animals. Type A influenza virus can also infect swine. In fact, swine have been shown to serve as perfect hosts for re-assortment of influenza viruses, as they are susceptible to both avian and human strains.

There are numerous subtypes of Avian Influenza viruses based on two proteins imbedded in the membrane coat of the virus: hemagglutinin (“H” protein) and neuraminidase (“N” protein). There are 18 known “H” proteins and 11 known “N” proteins. This creates a total of 198 possible viral combinations depending on which “H” protein and which “N” protein are present in the viral membrane. Fortunately, most H/N combinations cause the Avian Influenza virus to be of low pathogenic concern. However, the H5 and H7 subtypes have the potential to mutate from low pathogenic to highly pathogenic states, causing serious disease or mortality in birds.

Over the past several months, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed the presence of the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza virus subtype H5N1 in both wild bird species and several poultry farms across Canada.

While the risk to pet birds is considered low, there have been published reports of pet passerines and psittacines becoming infected with the Avian Influenza virus.

To reduce the risk of your pet becoming infected with avian flu, the following steps can be taken:

1. Prevent contact with wild birds and other animals.

Wild birds and other animals such as mice can carry a range of disease-causing viruses, parasites and bacteria. Make sure that your birds and their food and water are kept away from wild animals. Promptly clean up spilled feed and litter, and keep feed in sealed, waterproof containers to avoid attracting unwanted guests and to protect it from becoming contaminated.

2. Keep the bird cage and surroundings clean.

Most pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and parasites) can survive outside of the bird if they are in organic matter such as droppings, litter, and soil. Routinely and thoroughly cleaning cages, toys, and food and water containers can help eliminate the risk of disease spread. Do not share or borrow equipment from other bird owners and be sure to practice good hygiene by regularly washing your hands with soap and water before and after handling birds.

The following cleaning protocol has been recommended by the CFIA.

Be sure to do all cleaning outside or in a well-ventilated room while wearing protective eyewear and gloves.

a. While using a brush or sponge, remove ALL organic material from the cage, toys, dishes, and other equipment with detergent (i.e., dish soap) and clean, hot water. Rinse well.

b. Disinfect the cleaned items using a solution of 50 mL of household bleach in 4 liters of water. Let stand until the surface is dry.

c. Finally, rinse items thoroughly with hot water.

*** Please note that it is impossible to disinfect organic items (i.e., anything made of wood or grass) so these items should not be transferred between birds. Most disinfectants will not work properly if there is a presence of organic matter. Therefore, all organic material must be completely removed before applying a proper disinfectant to the items that are being cleaned.

3. Monitor your pet for signs of illness.

Infected birds shed the Avian Influenza virus through their saliva, mucous, and feces. The viruses may pass directly from bird-to-bird or indirectly through contaminated feed, water, equipment, shoes, or clothing. Birds that are infected with the Avian Influenza virus may show one or many of these signs:

– lack of energy, movement or appetite

– decreased egg production

– swelling around the head, neck and eyes

– coughing, gasping for air or sneezing

– nervous signs, tremors or lack of coordination

– diarrhea

– sudden death

Contact your veterinarian if your bird is showing any of these symptoms.

4. Limit exposure to visitors.

The Avian Influenza virus has the potential to be spread via contaminated clothing and shoes. Because humans can carry the virus that causes avian flu, it is best to limit who has contact with your pet. Anyone showing signs of flu, should avoid interaction with your pet.

5. Practice proper quarantine procedures if adding a new bird to your home.

Practice proper quarantine procedures if adding a new bird to your home. When a new bird enters your home, that bird should be placed in a separate area far from established birds and monitored daily for signs of illness for at least a month. Contact with the new bird should be done after the birds already in the home have been fed, watered, and cleaned. To avoid contaminating your clothing, put on a sweater or hoodie when entering the new bird’s room and then place it immediately in the laundry afterwards. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the new pet.

Avian Influenza virus is spreading in wild bird populations across the globe and presents a significant national concern as birds migrate to Canada. By practicing good biosecurity habits, you can reduce the risk of your pet being exposed to the AI virus.

Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic