Avian Influenza (H5N1)
Avian influenza (also known as "avian flu", "bird flu" or "AI") is a disease caused by a virus that mainly infects domestic poultry and wild birds like geese, ducks, and shore birds. As is the case for humans, there is a “bird flu” season each year, and certain strains are worse than others. Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 (HPAI H5N1) is a strain that kills both wild birds and commercial poultry. While avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds, it can also infect mammals, especially those that hunt, scavenge or otherwise consume infected birds.
On this page:
Risk of transmission to humans
Avian influenza symptoms in humans
Avian influenza symptoms in birds
What should I do if my backyard poultry are sick or dying?
What should I do if I find dead wild birds in my backyard or in a park?
How can I protect myself from avian influenza?
Can my pets get avian influenza? How can I protect them?
Can I get avian influenza from my pet?
Can I get avian influenza from eating poultry products?
Is there a vaccine for humans against avian influenza?
Cases of avian influenza among humans are rare and almost always acquired through direct contact with infected birds or exposure to heavily contaminated environments. To date, there has been no evidence of sustained person-to-person spread. No domestically acquired human cases of avian influenza have been reported in Canada.
Although the risk of avian influenza transmission to humans is low, members of the public should always avoid direct contact with sick or infected birds and animals. The Ontario Ministry of Health recommends that individuals who live or work on a poultry farm undertake active monitoring if symptomatic and that asymptomatic individuals self-monitor for symptoms.
The symptoms of avian influenza H5N1 in humans can range from very mild to severe. The most common symptoms are the following:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle and/or body aches
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures. Diarrhea is more common when infected with avian influenza than human influenza viruses.
It is important to tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and if you have been around birds or animals in the past 10 days, and especially important if you have been around sick or dead birds or potentially infected animals and did not wear any personal protective equipment. Specific tests to detect avian influenza in humans are available. Antiviral therapy is also available and may be prescribed for you. If you do not have access to a doctor, please call Health811 at 811.
Signs of avian influenza in birds include:
- Lack of energy or movement
- Nervousness, tremors, or lack of coordination
- Swelling around the head, neck, and eyes
- Coughing, gasping for air, or sneezing
- Diarrhea, or
- Sudden death
Learn more about Avian influenza in poultry.
If your backyard poultry are sick or dying and you suspect they may have avian influenza, please call your veterinarian or your local Canadian Food Inspection Agency office or email email@example.com.
If you find a sick or dead wild bird in your backyard or in a park, please report the finding by calling the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-866-673-4781 or by using their online reporting tool. If they determine that the sample is appropriate for testing, they will advise you as to how to safely collect and store the bird and will provide you with a pre-paid shipping container for submission.
If the dead bird is not being collected by authorities, then avoid handling the bird, or dispose of it in a safe manner.
Members of the public should avoid handling live or dead wild birds or potentially infected animals. If you cannot avoid contact with wild birds or potentially infected animals, wear gloves, or use a doubled plastic bag and avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces. Be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any tools (e.g. shovel) used in disposing of wild birds with hot, soapy water and then use a household disinfectant. You should then wash your hands with soap and warm water. Click here for more information on how to dispose of a dead bird.
Do not handle or feed any wild bird by hand. Bird feeders are generally safe to use, however, they should be cleaned regularly and removed from areas open to poultry and other domestic animals. Consult the ECCC website for safe bird feeding guidelines.
More information for the general public, hunters, and people who work with wild birds or other susceptible wildlife can be found here: Wildlife and avian influenza – Handling guidelines to protect your health.
In general, avian influenza infections in domestic pets, including cats and dogs, are rare but can occur. Avian influenza can be transmitted to cats and dogs when they eat, scavenge, or interact closely with infected birds.
To help protect your pets:
- It’s recommended to keep your cat indoors and your dog on a leash to prevent contact with sick or dead wild birds as well as wild bird feces.
- Do not allow your pets to consume or play with sick or dead wild birds found outside.
- Do not feed your pets raw meat from game birds or poultry.
- Contact your veterinarian if you have questions about your pets' health.
To learn more, see Pets and H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
Current science suggests that the risk of a human contracting avian influenza from a domestic pet is minor. Although there has not been a documented case of a human contracting HPAI H5N1 from a mammalian pet, pet owners are encouraged to take appropriate precautions to protect their pets and themselves.
There is no evidence to suggest that cooked poultry or eggs are a source of avian influenza infection for people. As a general precaution, food safety measures should always be taken when handling poultry and egg products. Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling food, keep products separate to prevent cross-contamination, clean and sanitize all surfaces, and fully cook poultry products.
There is no vaccine for H5N1 indicated for use in Canada at this time. However, annual vaccination for human seasonal influenza (seasonal flu shot) is recommended. While the annual human influenza vaccine does not protect against avian influenza, it will help prevent you from getting seasonal influenza, which could weaken your immune system or resistance to other infections.
Learn more about avian influenza and how to prevent its spread in birds, pets and humans in the following resources:
Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza (Ontario Ministry of Health)
Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza Frequently Asked Questions (March 2023) (Ontario Ministry of Health)
Avian influenza A(H5N1): Prevention and risks (Public Health Agency of Canada)
Fact Sheet – Avian Influenza (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)
Protect your flock from bird flu (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)
Avian influenza in poultry (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)
Raise healthy small flock poultry (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs)
Pets and H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)
Wildlife and avian influenza – Handling guidelines to protect your health (Public Health Agency of Canada)