Redwood City — With the presence of avian flu in the Bay Area, San Mateo County Health is advising residents who keep backyard birds or domestic flocks to protect them from contact with wild birds and for the public to take precautions when handling dead birds.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which is highly contagious and often fatal in birds, poses minimal risk to people, but residents should take care when interacting with birds.
The virus typically spreads from wild birds to domestic ones. Multiple wild bird species, including Canada geese, American white pelican, California gull, mallard, turkey vulture, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, American crow, and Cooper’s hawk, have recently tested positive for HPAI. Backyard poultry, commercial flocks, and pet birds can become infected with HPAI through contact with wild birds, their droppings, or shared food and water sources.
Domestic poultry, including chickens and turkeys, are at highest risk of severe disease.
“Bird flu is common in Northern California,” said Marc Meulman, director of Public Health, Policy, and Planning, which supervises Animal Control and Licensing. “While the risk to humans is small, we’re asking the public to avoid dead birds when possible and for residents who keep chickens, roosters, turkeys, and other birds to prevent their exposure to wild birds.”
While avian flu is not known to pose a risk to companion animals, such as dogs, the current strain has been found in wild carnivores, including foxes and coyotes. Pets should be kept away from wild birds and their droppings as much as possible.
Those who keep pet birds and poultry should:
- Whenever possible, secure birds inside an enclosure that wild birds cannot access
- Remove bird feeders and bird baths from property to avoid attracting wild birds
- Store feed in sealed containers; clean up spilled or uneaten feed promptly
- Use water from commercial sources, rather than open ponds shared with wild birds
- Limit visitors to your bird housing area and avoid contact with other birds or flocks as much as possible
- Clean and disinfect clothing, footwear, and equipment before entering bird housing areas or handling birds
- Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling birds
- Wash vehicles in a commercial car wash after driving onto other farms or areas with birds
The Peninsula Humane Society, which manages animal control services on behalf of the County, will collect dead birds and other dead animals from public property. For collection of dead birds from public property, call (650) 340-8200 on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
For dead birds on private property, residents may collect them and deliver to them to Peninsula Humane Society – wear impermeable gloves, N95 mask, and eye protection, and use an inverted plastic garbage bag or a shovel to collect and bag the bird. Afterwards, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water and change clothes before having contact with domestic or pet birds.
Although avian flu viruses usually do not infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infected birds shed bird flu virus through their saliva, mucous and feces. Human infections can happen when virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled. This can happen through direct contact with sick birds, when virus is in the air (in droplets or dust) and a person breathes it in, or possibly when a person touches something that has virus on it then touches their mouth, eyes, or nose.
Symptoms of bird flu virus infections in humans have ranged from no symptoms or mild illness, such as eye redness or mild flu-like upper respiratory symptoms, to severe – such as pneumonia requiring hospitalization, high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, or difficulty breathing. Less common signs and symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or seizures.
No cases of avian flu in people have been reported in the Bay Area.
California-specific information from the state Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), including laboratory testing, temporary exemptions to outdoor access for organically raised poultry:
Official counts of HPAI cases nationwide from United States Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) updated daily:
California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “HPAI Information” about recent detections in wild birds, including what to do if you find a sick or dead wild bird:
CDC’s “How bird flu spreads” graphic that shows how virus can travel to other birds or people:
CDFA’s “Biosecurity for backyard birds” – simple tips to keep your small poultry flock healthy:
San Mateo County Health