Wild birds and avian influenza – Handling guidelines


Have you found a sick or dead wild bird?

Report it to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC).

Information for members of the public and hunters

Wild birds and waterfowl in Canada and throughout the world are natural carriers of avian influenza viruses. These viruses typically cause little or no harm to wild birds and waterfowl. However, these viruses can spread to domestic poultry and, under certain circumstances, to people.

In general, human cases of avian influenza are caused by close contact with infected live or dead poultry or contaminated environments. While the risk of human infection with avian influenza viruses is low, individuals should be cautious when handling wild birds.

Members of the public

As a general guideline, members of the public should not handle live or dead wild birds.

If contact with wild birds is unavoidable, wear gloves or use a doubled plastic bag and avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces. You should then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.

If you observe sick or dead birds and suspect that disease may be involved, contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1- 800-567-2033.

Hunter safety

It is considered safe to hunt, handle, and eat healthy game birds. However, because exposure to avian influenza can occur when handling wild birds and waterfowl, we recommend that you:

  • Before hunting game birds and waterfowl in areas where an outbreak of avian influenza has been reported, please check that restrictions in your area have not changed.
  • Do not handle or eat sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes.
  • When handling or cleaning game:
    • Avoid direct contact with blood, feces, and respiratory secretions of all wild birds
    • Always work in a well-ventilated environment
      • If working outdoors, try to stay upwind of birds to avoid inhaling dust, feathers and aerosols
    • Do not eat, drink, or smoke
    • Wear gloves (e.g. vinyl, latex, nitrile, rubber)
    • Wash hands with soap and warm water immediately after you have finished. If you do not have access to water, use hand sanitizer or wipe with at least 60 percent alcohol.
    • Keep young children and pets away from areas that could be contaminated
  • After you are done, thoroughly clean and disinfect tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then use a household disinfectant.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing and footwear that may be contaminated with blood, feces or respiratory secretions.
    • Not only does this protect your health, but also helps to prevent the spread of the virus to other birds and domestic poultry.
  • If you become ill after handling birds, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.

Food safety

There is no evidence to suggest that properly cooked game birds are a source of avian influenza infection for people.

Follow these guidelines when handling game bird meat:

  • Cook game meat thoroughly
    • Cook pieces and cuts to an internal temperature of 74°C (165° F)
    • Cook whole birds to an internal temperature of 82°C (180° F)
  • Follow general safe food handling practices such as:
    • Keeping raw meat separate from other food products to avoid cross contamination
    • Washing hands often, including before and after handling raw meat
    • Thoroughly cleaning contaminated tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then using a household disinfectant

Precautions for bird banders, Aviculturists and wildlife rehabilitation centres

People handling and caring for live birds in captivity should be aware of the potential for disease transmission between birds, and from birds to people.

Aviculturists and wildlife rehabilitation centres

  • If you observe sick or dead wild birds and suspect that disease may be involved, contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at 1-800-567-2033 before handling them or bringing them into your facility.
  • All birds, even apparently healthy ones, should be quarantined before mixing with resident birds. Avoid mixing species and birds from different regions, and unnecessary bird-to-bird contact.
  • If birds in your facility show signs of illness ( e.g. excessively watery eyes, swelling of the head and eyelids, ruffled feathers, etc.), consult with a veterinarian immediately.
  • Protect yourself when handling birds:
    • Wear heavy gloves when handling birds that can pierce skin with beak or claws; otherwise, wear rubber gloves or disposable gloves (e.g. vinyl, latex, nitrile)
    • Do no eat, drink or smoke while handling birds and or cleaning contaminated equipment
    • If collecting blood, fecal, or tissue samples, wear disposable gloves (e.g. vinyl, latex, nitrile) and handle samples and sharps according to established biosafety protocols.
    • Always work in a well-ventilated environment
      • If working outdoors, try to stay upwind of birds to avoid inhaling dust, feathers and aerosols
  • If you are working with birds with signs of respiratory or neurologic illness, where splash or aerosols will be generated (e.g. using high pressure hoses or in ponds), or in locations where high pathogenic avian influenza, subtype H5N1 has been found in either wild birds or poultry, it is recommended to also wear:
    • Respirators (e.g. N-95, KN-95 or equivalent)
    • Eye protection (e.g. goggles, face shields, safety glasses)
    • Disposable gown or coveralls
    • Disposable protective shoe/boot covers or rubber or polyurethane boots
  • When cleaning equipment, or handling feces or fecal contaminated feed and water, wear disposable gloves (vinyl, latex, nitrile), then discard and wash hands with warm soapy water immediately after use.
  • Use appropriate disinfectants to wash equipment (e.g. sampling tools, bird restraint, holding, and transportation devices, banding tools or bird bags) or any potentially contaminated surface.
  • Dispose of gloves and all potentially contaminated material immediately in an appropriate manner (i.e. sealed in plastic bags).
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer when finished
  • If you become ill after handling birds, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.
  • To reduce the risk of exposing your own poultry or birds to avian influenza, practice good biosecurity: use separate clothing, equipment and footwear if handling wild birds, always practice good hand hygiene, and avoid contact between your birds and wild birds.
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