Bird flu in Florida: What is H5N1 and are schools closing?
Since 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has worked to monitor the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A virus subtypes like H5N1 and H7N9.
Avian influenza, also commonly referred to as bird flu, is rare in humans but can cause a range of serious and potentially fatal issues. Transmission typically occurs when handling sick birds.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has detected bird flu in 37 Florida counties and continues to monitor bird mortalities.
Here’s what you need to know.
Bird flu in Florida
Bird flu H5N1 was first documented in the U.S. in 2021 and was detected in Florida in January 2022. Florida currently leads the U.S. in positive wild bird samples with 413 as of March 21, according to the National Wildlife Disease Program.
FWC has found the virus in 37 counties and a variety of bird species – the most common species affected include black vultures, lesser scaup and Muscovy ducks.
A full list of counties and species can be found at the end of the story.
Are Florida schools closing because of bird flu?
Contrary to what a string of TikTok videos would have you believe, schools in Florida have not closed because of bird flu.
Videos about the virus closing Florida schools have racked up millions of views on the popular video-sharing app.
While many of the videos showcase Florida teens reacting to the news, a few have shared what appears to be an SMS alert from the Duval County school district letting students and parents know a Pinellas County school was closing for two weeks regarding the flu.
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The Pinellas County school district couldn't be reached for comment, but Dr. Tracy A. Pierce, chief of marketing and public relations for Duval County Public Schools debunked the rumor.
"This is a hoax. No message of this type has been sent from our school district, said Pierce."
What is bird flu (H5N1)?
Bird flu is a family of flu viruses that causes a serious respiratory illness in birds caused by influenza A viruses.
The most common virus strain is called H5N1. It exhibits a high level of transmissibility among avian populations. While the virus is initially found in wild bird populations, it can quickly spread to domesticated birds, resulting in large-scale outbreaks.
The viruses are split into two groups: the mild kind called Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) and the severe kind called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
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LPAI viruses cause mild or no disease, while HPAI cause severe disease and high death rates in infected birds, according to the CDC.
Infected birds may appear sick, have diarrhea, a cough, loss of appetite or experience a drop in egg production. Chickens and turkeys are particularly susceptible to death from the disease while ducks and geese have a better chance of recovery.
Can humans get bird flu?
While rare, in certain conditions humans can contract bird flu if enough virus is inhaled or gets into a person’s nose, mouth or eyes. According to the CDC, poultry workers and other workers who work near wild birds are the most at risk for infection.
Transmission can be minimized by following regular safety protocols:
Avoid unprotected direct physical contact with sick birds or anything associated with them such as:
Potentially contaminated surfaces and water
Wear recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) when in direct contact with birds that are potentially infected.
Put on and take off PPE in separate, clean areas.
Practice good hand hygiene
Avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose while using PPE
Do not eat, drink, smoke or use the bathroom while using PPE
Self monitor for symptoms
Bird flu treatment in birds and humans
The best way to treat avian influenza in birds is through biosecurity. There are USDA-licensed vaccines to protect against HPAI, but usage must be approved by federal and state animal authorities, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The association recommends not attempting to treat infected birds without contacting appropriate federal and state authorities. Currently, infected poultry are euthanized, and poultry products are destroyed due to the low chance of recovery.
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Treatment among humans is more optimistic. The CDC recommends isolating at home if you become sick within 10 days of coming into contact with infected birds and notify the local or state public health department, which will provide instructions on what to do.
Monitoring could include daily check-ins, testing and more.
Symptoms to watch for:
Difficulty breathing and or shortness of breath
Eye tearing, redness or irritation
Runny or congested nose
Muscle or body aches
Treatment may include prescription antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir, peramivir and zanamivir.
37 counties in Florida have confirmed bird flu cases
Florida birds infected by H5N1
Species with clinical disease with presumptive or confirmed HPAI H5 infection in Florida since February 2022:
Waterfowl - Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, Muscovy Duck (feral species), Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose (feral species)
Waterbirds - Royal Tern, Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Loon, Wood Stork, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Green Heron, White Ibis, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Egret, Black Skimmer, Sandhill Crane
Raptors - Bald Eagle, Great Horned Owl, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara, Eastern Screech-Owl, Peregrine Falcon
Other - Boat-tailed Grackle, Fish Crow, Indian Peafowl (feral species)
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How to report sick birds
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services requires anyone working with birds to report incidents so they can be investigated.
Report unusual sickness or die-offs in domestic poultry to FDACS 850-410-0900 during office hours, 1-800-342-5869 after office hours or by email at RAD@FDACS.gov.
Report dead wild birds to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Bird virus in Florida: What is H5N1 and are schools closing for flu?