Avian Influenza

What Hunters, Falconers, Wildlife Rehabilitators, Captive Bird Facility Owners, and the Public Should Know about Avian Influenza

Quick Facts About Avian Influenza

  • Avian influenza (AI) Type A is an infectious disease of birds. Aquatic birds (including waterfowl) are considered the natural reservoir of this virus. Low pathogenic forms (LPAI) are common in wild bird populations. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is circulating in commercial turkey and chicken farms in the Pacific Coast and Mid-West U.S. regions.
  • Avian influenza virus usually does not cause illness in waterfowl or shorebirds.
  • The highly pathogenic form of this disease is causing significant mortality in domestic chickens, turkeys, and in very small numbers of waterfowl and birds of prey in the U.S.
  • Increasing reports of HPAI in commercial birds spreading to new regions in the U.S. have created concerns that the HPAI virus could be carried throughout North America by migratory birds. At this time, it is unclear what role wild birds play in the spread of this virus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How is AI or HPAI different from the flu that people contract?

A: The avian influenza virus that affected birds and people beginning in the late 1990s is a different strain than the currently circulating HPAI virus in U.S. poultry/ turkeys in 2015: 
- Avian influenza (what the media called "bird flu") began affecting poultry and some wild birds in Asia over ten years ago (people were affected when in contact with poultry). 
- Human influenza ("the flu") kills 30,000 people each year.
- Millions of commercial chickens and turkeys (and some backyard flocks of mixed birds) have been culled due to HPAI in 2015 in North America (> 49 million depopulated as of Oct. 1, 2015).
- The currently circulating HPAI has not affected people.

Q: How did the current HPAI viruses enter North America?

A: The virus most likely entered through the movement of infected poultry, illegally imported birds or bird products, or migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

Q: How are Avian Influenza viruses transmitted in birds?

A: AI is passed between birds through fecal material and direct contact with body fluids such as saliva, nasal secretions, and aerosol droplets. It can also be transported by mechanical means - such as people, trucks, and equipment moving between poultry farms. Chickens, turkeys and backyard birds may spread HPAI to raptors by consumption of affected waterfowl, or through contact with domestic animals raised outdoors.

Q: Can Avian Influenza be transmitted to other animals?

A: While AI may be transmissible to other animals it does not move readily between species.

Q: Can humans contract AI or HPAI from wild birds?

A: Avian influenza type A viruses usually do not infect humans, however, rare cases of human infection with these viruses have been reported. Most human infections with avian influenza A viruses have occurred following close contact with infected poultry.

Q: Are hunting dogs at risk of getting HPAI?

A: Dogs used in wild game bird hunting are not considered at risk of acquiring avian influenza, since there have been no documented cases of the current virus infecting dogs in North America. Nevertheless, prudent dog owners should prevent their dogs from having contact with game birds that are obviously sick or found dead in the field. Hunters should not feed their dogs raw meat from game birds. These are routine safety precautions that hunting dog owners should already be following. Owners of hunting dogs should keep well informed on this issue and should consult their veterinarian for more information about influenza in pets. "Canine influenza" is different from the HPAI virus circulating in commercial poultry, turkeys, and backyard birds.

Q: Should the public, bird hunters, falconers, rehabilitators or captive bird facility owners be concerned about avian influenza and HPAI?

A: No one should be overly concerned at this time, but they are encouraged stay informed and educated on this issue. Follow common sense hygiene precautions while handling captive birds, or hunting, cleaning and cooking harvested game birds (see websites below for more information on cooking and human health).

Q: How can I protect myself from potential bird diseases?

A: The following suggestions are common sense precautions that all should follow:

  • Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.
  • Keep your harvested game birds cool, clean, and dry.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while processing your birds for consumption.
  • Use rubber gloves when cleaning facilities or game birds.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after handling or dressing birds.
  • Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterward; use hot soapy water, then disinfect with a 10% chlorine bleach solution.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly (165°F – well done) to kill disease organisms.
  • Dispose of gloves and other wastes properly.
  • Contact Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Maryland Department of Agriculture (USDA) if you observe bird mortalities
  • Contact your local MD Health Department or your family physician for human health issues and illnesses.

Q: What is being done to detect HPAI in wild birds?

A: The USDA Wildlife Services and Maryland DNR have been conducting surveillance for Avian Influenza in wild birds since 2005 and will continue monitoring efforts. The Maryland DNR will focus its HPAI virus sampling on species such as dabbling ducks. This surveillance will assist in the national effort to provide early detection of the current HPAI virus in wild bird populations and will assist the USDA and poultry industry with domestic bird monitoring. Bird mortalities are also being monitored.

Q: How can the public help?

A: You can help Maryland DNR monitor the health of wild bird populations by reporting die-offs of large numbers of birds (5 or more) in your area to USDA Wildlife Services 1-877-463-6497 – Toll-free (M-F 8-4:30).  During hunting seasons, biologists may ask hunters for permission to collect samples from harvested waterfowl and other birds.

Thank you for your cooperation with this important wildlife health issue.

For More Information about Avian Influenza & HPAI

USGS/ National Wildlife Health Center:


Maryland Department of Agriculture:

Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene:

MD List of County Health Departments:

Maryland Agency Numbers:

Maryland DNR - Wildlife & Heritage Service (M-F, 8-4:30): 410-260-8540
Maryland DNR Fish & Wildlife Health Program (M-F, 8-4:30): 410-226-5193
Maryland Department of Agriculture (M-F, 8-4:30): 410-841-5810
Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene: (M-F, 8-4:30) 410-767-5649