FWC investigating new strain of avian flu in wild birds in Central Florida

An employee at work in a laboratory in which avian flu samples are tested. (Photo by Carmen Jaspersen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says cases of avian influenza, or "bird flu," have been detected in Central Florida.

The highly contagious H5N1 Eurasian strain has killed birds in Brevard, Indian River, and Volusia counties, FWC says. This comes about a month after samples collected from a hunter-harvested blue-winged teal in Palm Beach County tested positive for the strain. 

Cases of avian influenza have also been reported in Kentucky, Maine, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Canada.  

Bird flu can cause high mortality rates among birds. In 2015, 50 million birds across 15 states died due to an outbreak, costing the federal government nearly $1 billion. 

Outbreaks of bird flu have occurred in Asia, Africa, North America, and parts of Europe. This H5N1 Eurasian strain has been documented in Europe since early 2021.   

No known human infections with Eurasian H5 viruses have occurred in the United States, officials say.  Most people who have developed symptoms of bird flu have had close contact with sick birds, health officials say.

Because of the recent discoveries of the H5N1 Eurasian strain in Central Florida, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is not accepting any injured or orphaned birds of prey. 

"The HPAI strain has been known to infect birds (including raptors) and some mammals, especially in rehabilitation situations," the center said in a statement. "At this time there appears to be a low risk of infection to humans, however, exposure is possible, especially those in wildlife rehabilitation."

Signs and symptoms with human infection

Signs and symptoms of bird flu may begin within two to seven days of infection, depending on the type. In most cases, they resemble those of conventional influenza, including:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath

Some people also experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. And in a few cases, a mild eye infection (conjunctivitis) is the only indication of the disease.

Ways to help prevent HPAI spread

  • Report bird mortalities so die-offs can be investigated and tested.
  • Prevent contact of domestic or captive birds with wild birds (especially waterfowl).
  • Do not handle sick/dead wildlife. If it is necessary to do so then wear impermeable gloves, wash hands with soap and water, and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
  • Hunters and others handling birds should follow the routine precautions listed below when handling wild birds.
  • Undercooked poultry meat or eggs from infected birds can transmit bird flu. Poultry meat is safe to eat if it's been cooked to an internal temperature of 165 F (74 C). Eggs should be cooked until the yolks and whites are firm.

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