Avian influenza and wild birds

Avian influenza viruses naturally occur in wild birds, especially waterfowl and shorebirds, and infections typically cause few, if any, symptoms. The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharges and fecal droppings. Avian Influenza viruses are categorized into Low Pathogenic (LPAI) and High Pathogenic (HPAI) strains based on their infectivity to domestic poultry. High Pathogenic Avian Influenza viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic poultry, such as chickens and domestic ducks.


Tundra swan

Few avian influenza viruses are able to infect humans, but influenza viruses are able to adapt and change over time. Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of the subtype H5N1 have caused mortalities in domestic birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and also infected humans who had close contact with sick birds. In 2013, another subtype, H7N9, was reported in humans in China. Neither of the Asian strains have been detected in North America.

Since December 2014, highly pathogenic H5 strains of avian influenza (H5N2 and H5N8) have been detected in wild birds of the Pacific, Central and Mississippi Flyways. Of these, H5N2 has caused outbreaks of avian influenza in domestic poultry and turkeys in multiple U.S. states. Neither strain has ever been implicated in human infection to date.

In Utah, as of September 2015, HPAI has only been detected in two healthy ducks, which were tested in association with enhanced surveillance activities in December 2014 and August 2015.

Surveillance for avian influenza in Utah birds by the DWR

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is continuing to monitor for unusual mortality events in wild birds, especially in waterfowl and other water birds; gallinaceous birds such as quail and turkeys; scavenger birds such as crows and ravens; and birds of prey such as eagles, owls and other raptors. We also request that any large group of dead waterfowl, shorebirds, wild turkeys or quail (not found near power lines or roads), as well as dead raptors and scavengers found near waterfowl habitats, be reported to a local DWR office or by calling (801)-538-4700. Mortalities or questions regarding domestic birds should be directed to the State Veterinarian's office at (801)-538-4910 or by calling the USDA toll free at 1-866-536-7593.

Recommendations for the general public and hunters

  • The general public should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects you from possible exposure to pathogens and minimizes disturbance to the animal.
  • Do not touch or pick up sick or dead wildlife.
  • Do not harvest any animal that appears sick.
  • Do not handle or eat sick game.
  • Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning birds, wash hands with soap and water, and thoroughly clean all knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with birds. Disinfect using a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked (well done or 165° F).
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game or handling animals.
  • If handling healthy wild birds, work in well-ventilated areas to decrease the risk of inhaling aerosols such as dust, feathers or dander.
  • Please report any large group of dead waterfowl to local wildlife authorities immediately. Do not handle or pick up dead birds.

Frequently asked questions

Question: Is there any risk of becoming infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza virus by feeding backyard birds or cleaning a bird feeder?

Answer: There is currently no evidence that suggests you could become infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus by feeding backyard birds. Generally, songbirds, or perching birds, (Passeriformes) are the primary type of birds at feeders. Most wild birds traditionally associated with avian influenza viruses are waterfowl and shorebirds. Songbirds are susceptible to other avian diseases. Therefore, we recommend that people who feed birds routinely clean their feeders and bird baths, and anyone who comes in direct contact with bird droppings should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water (Cleaning a bird feeder | Songbird diseases encountered at bird feeders).

Question: Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?

Answer: The HPAI strains detected in North America have not been implicated in human infections to date.

Question: Does the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have a surveillance program for HPAI viruses?

Answer: We collaborate with federal agencies on a nationwide surveillance and monitoring program for HPAI virus in wild migratory birds. The DWR periodically tests hunter-harvested waterfowl to check for the presence of the HPAI virus. We also request that the public report any large group of dead waterfowl to local wildlife authorities immediately.

Additional information