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Ventura, CA – Ventura County Public Health (VCPH), a Department of the Ventura County Health Care Agency, has recently confirmed two cases of avian flu in Ventura County, including one Great Horned Owl in Thousand Oaks and one Great Horned Owl in Oxnard.
Other sick and dead wild birds have also been found within the Ventura County area and are under investigation. All cases are part of an ongoing, nationwide, avian flu outbreak, also known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 that began in early 2022 in the United States and has affected over 49 million wild birds and poultry.
Currently, the risk to the general public of contracting the avian flu virus is low.
What Is Avian Flu
Avian flu, also call bird flu, is a very contagious disease among birds and can infect, sicken, and even kill certain backyard flocks, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys.
Avian flu spreads through direct bird-to-bird contact or indirectly when the virus is on clothing, footwear, vehicles, rodents, insects, feed, water, feathers, etc. Birds shed the virus in bodily fluids such as respiratory droplets, mucus, saliva, and feces.
Domestic poultry, waterfowl, raptors, and certain shorebirds are at the highest risk for contracting the virus. Wild birds may show no symptoms or may have neurological signs, respiratory distress, or experience sudden death. Domestic birds may have swelling of the head and eyes, diarrhea, weakness, respiratory distress, and loss of appetite.
How To Reduce Transmission
Ventura County Public Health Officer, Dr. Robert Levin, has advised that the public follow this guidance to help reduce the risk and spread of avian flu:
- Avoid contact with wild birds, even if they don’t appear sick.
- Avoid surfaces that may be contaminated with saliva or feces from wild or domestic birds.
- Keep dogs and other pets away from wild birds.
- Do not handle sick or injured birds. Contact your local animal control agency for help or call the Sick Bird Hotline 1-866-922-BIRD (2473) to report an usual number of sick or dead birds.
- Bird owners should seek veterinary attention for their own animals if they appear sick.
- Residents with backyard chickens, ducks or other poultry should remove water and food sources that feed wild birds (bird feeders, bird baths, etc.).
- Residents with backyard flocks should keep poultry feed away from wild birds and rodents.
- Those who handle pet birds or backyard poultry should thoroughly wash their hands and clean and disinfect footwear before and after coming into contact with their birds.
For those who own birds that reside outdoors (e.g., backyard flock of chickens) or who handled a dead bird in the 10 days prior to the onset of flu-like symptoms, Public Health recommends isolating from others and seeking medical care. Flu-like symptoms include fevers, chills, and muscle/body aches. When seeking medical care, please let your doctor know about the possibility of exposure to avian flu.
“Again, it appears, based on the limited number of humans that have become infected from contact with these birds, that the virus is only weakly transmissible at this point from birds to humans. The reason that scientists advise avoiding contact with infected birds is to minimize spread, as the more opportunities this virus has to infect humans, the more opportunities it has to mutate and become the next pandemic,” said Public Health Officer, Dr. Robert Levin.
VCPH is working to ensure that every precaution is taken to prevent avian flu from spreading in Ventura County. Ill birds that are suspected of carrying the virus may be euthanized to protect the overall bird population. Public Health officials are monitoring individuals who have been in contact with infected birds for symptoms.
VCPH will continue monitoring the situation and working with appropriate state and local agencies on surveillance, testing, and tracking of birds for this disease.
For more information and guidance on bird flu, visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Information on Bird Flu or the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Avian Influenza Updates.