What’s on the Horizon for Public Health

By Marcia Schroeder, RN, Horizon Public Health

In case you are wondering, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) poses a low health risk to you and your family. People rarely catch avian influenza (bird flu) and it continues to be safe to eat poultry, including chicken, turkey and eggs. But with poultry, as always, it is important to handle it properly. Here are some reminders:

• Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling poultry.

• Clean and sanitize your work surfaces and equipment.

• Keep raw and cooked meat separate.

• Cook meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Put leftovers in the fridge or freeze them for future use.

Unfortunately for Minnesota poultry producers, in March of this year the HPAI virus was confirmed in both commercial and backyard flocks. The virus is carried by flocks of swans, geese and ducks as they migrate. Although they are carriers, they typically do not become ill. But birds like domestic turkeys and chickens, eagles, hawks and owls can get severe illness and rapidly die. HPAI is spread in the feces, saliva or nasal secretions of infected birds and can be easily spread by objects contaminated with virus particles. The cool, damp weather we are having is perfect for helping the virus survive.

Dr. Victoria Hall, DVM, from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, recommends doing all we can to help our wild bird populations. Because the science is unclear on the role of songbirds and how they might contribute to the spread of the virus, one idea is to not encourage birds to gather together at places like bird feeders or bird baths. Help promote social distancing for birds, if you will, for the next few months!  

Taking down your bird feeder will not only help to protect the beautiful feathered creatures that visit your yard, but will also help protect all wild bird species from HPAI. Hummingbird feeders are not without risk for spreading infectious disease, however they pose the lowest risk as they tend to have a more limited group of birds visiting them. If you continue to use them, clean them on a daily basis to further reduce risk. 

If interested, you can follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s information on domestic flocks affected by state or county by going to this website: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-2022  or you can visit https://raptor.umn.edu/about-us/our-research/HPAI to find out more about the work of the U of M Raptor Center.