What Is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza?

Avian Influenza, also known as “bird flu”, is a contagious viral disease of all birds, including poultry, parrots, and songbirds.  We divide the virus into two groups – Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) and High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI).  LPAI typically causes mild respiratory disease in birds, but HPAI can cause severe disease, including death.  HPAI is not only a threat to your bird’s health, but also to farmed poultry and our food supply.

Recently, HPAI has been confirmed in several poultry flocks in Canada by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  It is a disease that is reported to the provincial and federal governments due to the risk to farmed poultry.

How is the virus spread?

Avian Influenza, including HPAI, is carried by wild birds.  Usually, wild birds do not show any symptoms which allows them to carry the virus far distances and between countries when migrating.

Wild birds shed the virus in their feces and respiratory secretions.  Pet birds and poultry can be exposed to the virus through direct contact with wild birds or through contaminated water and feed.  The virus is stable at cooler temperatures, so it can survive a long time outside and on shoes, clothing, and equipment.

The risk of Avian Influenza is highest when wild birds are migrating as your birds have a higher chance of coming into contact with wild birds.

What are the symptoms?

All birds are susceptible to Avian Influenza.  Backyard poultry are at the highest risk of exposure to the virus as they are more likely to be exposed to wild birds, however parrots and songbirds can be affected as well.

Symptoms of Avian Influenza can vary and depend on whether your bird was exposed to LPAI or HPAI.  Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing, sneezing, or swollen eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Incoordination, inability to stand or walk, or tremors
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Purple or blue discolouration of wattles and combs, sometimes with blisters
  • Decreased egg production
  • Unexpected death

As always, it is best to be cautious and talk to your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your bird.

How can you prevent avian influenza?

Prevention is a key part of protecting your birds and farmed birds from Avian Influenza.  Taking precautions to avoid contact between your birds and wild birds, called biosecurity, is crucial.

Biosecurity precautions include:

  • Quarantine new birds for at least 21 days before introducing them to your flock
  • Keep your birds inside or in a safe outdoor pen
  • Prevent access to ponds and dugouts where migratory birds may spend time
  • Avoid feeding birds outside as this may attract wild birds. If you cannot feed your birds inside, you can use netting or fencing to prevent wild birds from using your feeders.
  • Clean your hands, clothing, and footwear after handling birds.
  • Do not share equipment with other bird owners.
  • Clean and disinfect your birds’ enclosure and equipment regularly.
  • Monitor your birds for signs of illness and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns

If you have poultry, register for a Premises Identification (PID) number at www.agriculture.alberta.ca/premises.  This is used to contact you in case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster or disease outbreak

Can people get avian influenza?

Usually, Avian Influenza is not passed to people.  There have been some reports of people and other mammals contracting Avian Influenza after exposure to sick birds.  You cannot get the virus from cooked poultry or eggs.

If your bird is ill, it is always a good idea to avoid touching your face when you are with them and to wash your hands well with soap and water after handling them.

The risk of Avian Influenza is highest when wild birds are migrating as your birds have a higher chance of coming into contact with wild birds.

Further information on avian influenza

More information on Avian Influenza can be found on the Canadian and Alberta government websites at:



Contact us

If you have any questions about or your bird’s health, please call us at 587-735-6677 or for non-urgent questions you can also email us at reception@harvestpointevet.com.