Avian Flu Outbreak: Florida Becomes Fourth State to Confirm Cases in Wild Waterfowl

by Samantha Whidden

Florida has reportedly become the fourth state to confirm cases of the highly pathogenic Eurasian H5 avian influenza virus (HPAI), or avian flu, in wild waterfowl.

According to Field and Stream, the Avian Flu hadn’t been found in wild birds in the U.S. since 2016. However, since this past fall, four states have found it among their bird population. They are Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. 

The Avian Flu strain, dubbed H5N1, that was found in Florida was originally detected in Europe in early 2021. Field and Stream report that there were major outbreaks in Europe and the Middle East, particularly Israel, of the strain. Israeli officials described the outbreak as being “the worst blow to wildlife” in the country’s history.

Florida officials also share that the H5N1 Avian Flu strain causes mortality in wild birds. But it’s more likely to cause mortality among fowl and poultry. The Field and Stream are now monitoring for the Avian Flu in both sick and dead birds throughout the state. 

Is Avian Flu Dangerous to Humans?

The CDC reports that the Avian Flu’s H5 viruses have only infected birds in the United States. To date, no human infections of the H5 viruses have occurred in the United States. The infections in the United States are due to three subtypes. They are H5N1, H5N2, and H5N8. 

The CDC also explains that the Avian Flu H5 viruses infect the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of birds. It can spread rapidly and cause highly high mortality in infected poultry. “Many birds have died and millions of chickens and turkeys in several states have been culled to try to control the outbreaks,” the organization reveals. Signs of an infection in poultry may include sudden death; lack of energy, appetite, and coordination; purple discoloration or swelling of various body parts; diarrhea; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; and reduced egg production, or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs. 

The CDC further explains human infections. “To date, no human infections with [Avian Flu] H5 viruses have been identified in the United States. Preliminary laboratory studies suggest that the HPAI H5 viruses causing the poultry outbreaks are not well-adapted to humans. However, sporadic cases of human respiratory illness with high mortality from infections with other closely related HPAI H5 viruses (e.g., H5N1, H5N6) have occurred in other countries.”

The CDC notes that most human infections with Avian Flu’s H5N1 or H5N6 viruses occur in person not using appropriate PPE who had exposures in two ways. Direct physical with a bird that has the virus or surfaces that have the virus on it. Another way is to be in close proximity (within six feet) of infected birds. And finally, another way is to visit a poultry market.