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Fact Sheet: Guidance on Precautions for the Handling of Wild Birds


Information for Members of the Public and Hunters

Wild waterfowl in Canada and throughout the world are natural carriers of influenza viruses. These viruses typically cause little or no harm to the birds. Periodically these viruses can spread to domestic poultry and, under certain circumstances, to people. In general, human cases are related to close contact with infected live or dead poultry. While the risk of human infection with avian influenza viruses remains low, individuals should be cautious when handling wild birds.

Members of the Public

As a general guideline, members of the public should avoid handling live or dead wild birds. If you observe wild birds that are ill or you find dead wild birds, contact your local or provincial wildlife authority.

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 with soap and warm water.

Follow these guidelines in the way you handle game meat:

  • Cook game meat thoroughly, to an internal temperature of approximately 71°C (160° F).
  • Follow safe food handling practices. The transmission of avian influenza viruses to people from eating uncooked or undercooked eggs or poultry is unlikely. However, proper safe food handling practices such as hand washing and keeping poultry and egg products separate from other food products to avoid cross contamination should be followed as a general practice.
  • Thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces on tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant.
  • Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food, and after handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.

If you observe sick or dead birds and suspect that disease may be involved, contact the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre by calling 1-866-544-4744.

Hunters

It is considered safe to hunt, handle, and eat healthy game birds, especially if the following precautions are observed:

  • Do not handle or eat sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes.
  • Avoid direct contact with blood, feces, and respiratory secretions of all wild birds.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wear dish gloves or latex gloves when handling or cleaning game. Wash gloves, hands, and clothing with soap and warm water immediately after you have finished. Thoroughly clean contaminated surfaces on tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant. Immediately remove and wash clothing that may be contaminated with blood, feces or respiratory secretions.
  • If you become ill while handling birds or shortly thereafter, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.

Precautions for Bird Banders/Aviculturists/Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres

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

Aviculturists/wildlife rehabilitation centres

  • If birds appear sick, consult with a veterinarian 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 (such as 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 dish gloves or disposable gloves.
  • When cleaning equipment, collecting samples, or handling feces or fecal contaminated feed and water, wear disposable gloves, then discard and wash hands with warm soapy water immediately after use.
  • If collecting blood, fecal, or tissue samples, wear gloves and handle samples and sharps according to established biosafety protocols.
  • Do no eat, drink or smoke while handling or cleaning birds and contaminated equipment. Always wash your hands with warm soapy water when finished.
  • 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.
  • 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 will be working in an environment where splash or aerosols will be generated (using high pressure hoses, or in ponds), consider wearing eye protection and a face mask to prevent contact with eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Dispose of gloves and all potentially contaminated material immediately in an appropriate manner (i.e. sealed in plastic bags).
  • If you become ill while handling birds or shortly thereafter, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.