Avian Influenza Virus

Avian influenza (AI), often called “bird flu,” is caused by the Type “A” influenza virus. This virus can affect several species of food-producing birds (chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, etc.), as well as pet and wild birds.

Avian influenza viruses can be broadly classified into 2 types, based on the severity of the illness caused in birds:

  • low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI)
  • highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)

Most avian influenza viruses are low pathogenic. These typically cause little or no signs of illness in infected birds.

However, highly pathogenic viruses can cause severe illness and death in birds.

How Avian Influenza is transmitted and spread

Wild birds, especially waterfowl, are natural reservoirs of influenza viruses. They are not normally affected by the disease, but can still transmit it to domestic birds.

The disease can spread to birds through contact with infected poultry and poultry products. It can also spread through contaminated manure, litter, clothing, footwear, vehicles, equipment, feed and water.

Avian Influenza in pets

Pet birds can be infected by avian influenza and spread the disease to humans. In order to prevent the spread of AI, Canada has strict import requirements for pet birds from countries affected by avian influenza.

The highly pathogenic Asian strain of H5N1 has also been detected in mammals, including rats, mice, weasels, ferrets, pigs, cats and dogs.

However, the number of documented cases of avian influenza H5N1 in non-avian species is very low, despite the fact that this virus has caused large avian outbreaks globally over the last few years.

Current science suggests that the risk of a human contracting avian influenza from a mammalian pet is very low. Nonetheless, owners are encouraged to take appropriate precautions to protect their pets and themselves.