Bird Flu is another name for Avian Influenza (AI). There are many different strains of the bird flu virus. The strains are classified as "low pathogenicity" or "highly pathogenic". These classifications refer to the potential for the viruses to kill poultry, not infect people.
The highly pathogenic strains (HPAI) are usually not found in the United States (US). However, in 2014 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed HPAI in Washington state and Oregon. It is widely believed that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) subtype H5N8 arrived from Asia/Siberia into North America with migratory birds although other avenues of introduction, such as movement of infected poultry products or people traveling between Asia and North America, cannot be ruled out. Once in North America this virus mixed with low pathogenic North American influenza viruses to create novel Eurasian/North American HPAIV subtypes, H5N2 and H5N1. All three virus subtypes were first detected in British Columbia (H5N2) and in northern Washington State (H5N8, H5N2, and H5N1) in November and December, 2014.
After intensive surveillance of hunter-harvested waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway by state and federal agencies during December, 2014, and in January, and February 2015, it was found that the H5N8 and H5N2 subtypes had become widely established in North American waterfowl within that flyway. It is likely that these waterfowl are playing some role in moving these viruses within the flyway.
Beginning in early 2015, the H5N2 subtype was found in poultry and wild birds in the Midwest and Southeast. The role of wild birds in the introduction and movement of the H5N2 subtype in to these new regions is unclear as the timing of these findings is poorly associated with known wild bird movements at that time, given that the first cases in domestic turkeys in Minnesota occurred at the end of winter, proceeding the arrival of migratory birds from the southern U.S. As of October 6, 2015, 48 million poultry have died or been euthanized as a result of HPAI outbreaks, and the last detection occurred on June 17, 2015. A total of 85 cases of HPAI have been reported in wild birds. The last detection was on July 31, 2015.
Up-to-date listings of HPAI cases can be found at the following locations:
Wild Birds (pdf, USDA-APHIS site)
The novel H5N1 HPAIV that was found in a green-winged teal in Washington is not the same as the Asian H5N1 strain that can infect people and has been the news for several years. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the strains of Eurasian/North American HPAI currently in the US are of low risk to human health.
Aquatic birds, especially ducks, shore birds and gulls are considered natural reservoirs for avian influenza viruses. The novel HPAI strains so far are not killing wild waterfowl. However, domestic poultry exposed to these novel virus strains become very ill and most quickly die. In some poultry the only sign of the disease is sudden death. In most infected domestic flocks. The numbers of sick and dying birds increases rapidly over several days. HPAI is devastating to the US poultry industry through production and bird losses, and through the loss of export markets. USDA, State Agriculture and Departments of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other agencies are working together to find infected poultry and stop the spread of disease and to educate producers and hunters
The virus is spread through contact with fecal droppings, saliva and nasal discharges of infected birds. One gram of infected feces contains enough virus to infect one million additional birds. Unlike LPAI, HPAI causes a systemic infection in the bird, spreading the virus to meat and eggs. The virus can survive in dead birds, especially if they are kept cool, for a few days. HPAI also survives in cold, moist environments and tolerates freezing - virus frozen in contaminated ponds can infect birds when the ice melts.
The novel HPAI viruses currently in the US are of little risk to people, and are killed in food by using proper cooking methods and temperatures. Cook game bird meat thoroughly; poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165°F to kill disease organisms and parasites.
Because HPAI can spread from bird carcasses, hunters should take extra precautions so they don't bring the virus home to their own or their neighbors' poultry. In the Pacific flyway, captive falcons became ill and many died after being fed infected wild ducks. Hunters should:
Hunter Wallet Card (USDA, pdf, 75kb)
Federal and state wildlife agencies are conducting continent-wide wild bird and habitat surveillance for HPAI. Surveillance for wild birds is focused on wetland species such as waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds and includes testing live-trapped birds, hunter-harvested waterfowl, and mortality events.
The NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife is working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services to test wild birds in the state in accordance with a national surveillance plan developed by the USDA, USGS, USFWS and the National Flyway Council. Testing is targeted towards populations that have a higher chance of carrying the HPAI virus. Wild birds are trapped alive, sampled and released and hunter-harvested birds are sampled at check stations. The goal for New Jersey is to sample 190 ducks from June 2016 through March 2017. Also, in cooperation with the USDA, the NJ Department of Agriculture and licensed bird rehabilitators, the Division of Fish and Wildlife conducts testing of wild birds that die with flu-like symptoms.
New Jersey also has an excellent surveillance program for domestic poultry throughout the state. Large, commercial flocks test regularly for AI as part of the National Poultry Improvement Plan and many back yard flocks are tested for AI several times a year. New Jersey Department of Agriculture and USDA employees regularly test birds at poultry auctions, poultry distributors, and live bird markets throughout the state. Chances of infected poultry entering a store is low since all poultry is inspected by the USDA and the farms where these birds are raised are being tested for diseases.
Many countries around the world are having HPAI incidents in 2014-2015. In addition to China, Korea, and Viet Nam, HPAI viruses have infected domestic poultry flocks in Canada, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
The CDC considers the HPAI virus strains currently in the US as low risk to humans. There are other strains of AI (not in the US) which can cause illness and sometimes death in people. For example, China has an H7N9 virus which can be transmitted to people by close contact with poultry. This H7N9 virus has reportedly killed over 60 people in China in 2015. An Asian H5N1 virus (different than the Eurasian/North American H5N1 which is in the US) has been infecting people throughout Asia for several years. These viruses currently don't spread among people easily. There are no reports of wild birds transmitting the disease to humans (either the strains in the US or those known to infect people in other parts of the world).
The concern from organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that these viruses could mutate into a human virus that would make transmission of the disease from person to person very easy, causing a global influenza threat. The strains of HPAI in the US currently are adapted to waterfowl and other birds, lacking receptors for mammalian (including human) cells.
While they don't protect you from the bird flu, regular flu shots can help prevent mixing of "human" and bird flus in your body. If these flus reassort, it could make it easier for the bird flu to be transmitted to people, and even from person to person.
The incubation period for the Asian H5N1 virus is longer than for the seasonal flu. The incubation period may be from 2-8 days, but can possibly be as long as 17 days. It is hard to tell if someone has Asian H5N1 or any other bird flu virus because of the large range of symptoms and similarity to seasonal flu. If you develop flu-like symptoms, especially after handling or eating domestic or wild birds, it is important to contact your doctor and let him know that you were in contact with birds or sick animals.
Signs of HPAI in birds include sudden unexpected death losses at higher than normal levels (sometimes with no clinical signs), swelling around the eyes and face, blue discoloration of the wattles and combs, decreased egg production, soft shelled and misshapen eggs, nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, heads and necks turned backwards, incoordination and other neurologic signs. With HPAI in the US, everyone who owns birds, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, needs to step up their biosecurity. This includes preventing contact between domestic birds and wild birds, preventing contact with wild bird droppings, and reporting sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, through the N.J. Division of Animal Health at 609-671-6400 or to USDA APHIS Veterinary Services NJ office at 609-259-5260.
Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/.
If you find sick or dead wild birds, do not handle them. You could spread the virus, or the birds may have something other than HPAI. Contact the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife at 908-735-6398 or USDA-Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS to report observations of dead wild birds.
Avian Influenza - USGS National Willdife Health Center site