Avian Influenza (H5N2) in Wisconsin
During November 2014, a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, H5N2, also known as “bird flu,” was identified in commercial poultry, backyard hobby flocks, and wild birds in British Columbia, Canada, and several western states including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Since that time, it has been identified in other states including Wisconsin.
The risk to the public is very low, and there is no food safety concern. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has been working with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to assist when infected flocks are identified to ensure the safety of those who have worked among the infected flocks, and those who work to dispose of the infected birds. No one in the United States or other countries has become ill from this strain.
Can humans be infected with HPAI-H5N2?
No human cases of infection with this strain of the virus (H5N2) have been detected in the U.S. or other countries. However, some highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses can infect people, causing mild to severe respiratory illness. In most cases, people are infected after direct contact with birds that are sick with or died from avian influenza. Symptoms in infected people can include influenza-like illness, including fever, aches, respiratory symptoms, and red, itchy eyes. Person-to-person transmission of avian influenza viruses is very rare.
Avian influenza does not pose a health risk to the public. Only persons who have direct contact with infected birds are potentially at risk. As a precaution, DHS has coordinated access to antiviral medication (e.g., Tamiflu) for workers at farms where infected flocks have been identified. People in contact with infected birds are also monitored by the local health department to make sure they obtain health care if they become sick with influenza-like illness.
How is HPAI-H5N2 spread?
When avian influenza viruses infect humans, they are spread through direct contact with infected birds and through contact with contaminated bedding, feed, or water. (There have been no human cases of infection with the H5N2 avian influenza virus.)
Can I still eat chicken, turkey, or eggs?
Chicken, turkey, other poultry, and eggs can still be consumed, but as always the meat should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Poultry meat and eggs from infected farms are destroyed and not distributed for human or animal consumption.
Is it safe to hunt and eat wild birds, such as turkeys?
Wild birds can carry avian influenza. Hunters are advised to follow routine precautions when handling wild birds, including:
- Avoid handling or consuming game animals that are obviously sick or found dead.
- Avoid eating or smoking while cleaning wild birds.
- Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game.
- Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes immediately after handling game.
- Wash tools and work surfaces with soap and water, disinfecting them with a diluted solution of household bleach.
- Keep uncooked game in a separate container away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Meat should be cooked thoroughly.
For non-hunters, it is recommended that wildlife be observed from a distance to avoid disturbing the animal and picking up any germs the animal may carry.
What is DHS doing?
DHS is working closely with DATCP and local public health departments to identify, protect, and monitor the health of poultry workers and others in direct contact with infected birds.
More information about avian influenza (H5N2, “Bird Flu”):
- DHS Influenza Information https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/influenza/index.htm
- Food Safety Information: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/nutrition/safety.htm
- DATCP Avian Influenza Webpage: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/AvianInfluenza/index.aspx
- DNR Bird Diseases Webpage: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/disease.html