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San Diego Humane Society prepares for bird flu, offers tips to prevent spread

The entrance to the San Diego Humane Society is pictured, Sept. 18, 2006.
San Diego Humane Society
The entrance to the San Diego Humane Society is pictured, Sept. 18, 2006.

The San Diego Humane Society has taken precautions against bird flu as the avian-borne disease spreads throughout the United States and Southern California, it was announced Monday.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1, also known as the bird flu, is spreading in domestic poultry and wild birds and has now been confirmed in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The disease poses little risk to humans, but is highly contagious among susceptible bird species.

HPAI H5N1 has not yet been confirmed in San Diego County, but San Diego Humane Society has implemented biosecurity procedures.


"We want the community to be aware of this highly contagious bird flu, because we have to make significant changes to our intake process to prevent the disease from spreading to other animals in our care," said Dr. Jon Enyart, SDHS' senior director of Project Wildlife. "We now have strict biosecurity in place for Project Wildlife facilities and are limiting admission of wild birds, as well as restricting access to authorized personnel only. We are also changing our intake process for domestic birds at San Diego Humane Society animal shelters."

Project Wildlife program is the primary resource for wildlife rehabilitation in San Diego County. According to SDHS, the only way for the program to remain open without spreading the virus to other animals is to limit susceptible species from entering its buildings. HPAI H5N1 is primarily a disease of poultry and may cause significant mortality in backyard and commercial flocks. In wild birds, infection may cause mild to severe disease, and depends in part on the species infected.

The Humane Society offered some tips the public can use to help prevent the disease's spread:

— If you find an uninjured young bird, attempt to renest and reunite them with their parents rather than bringing them to Project Wildlife. If a HPAI susceptible bird is showing signs of illness, San Diego Humane Society will perform humane euthanasia upon arrival and submit the bird to the UC Davis California Animal Health and Food Safety laboratory for testing;

— Do not feed or provide water to wild birds, especially if backyard poultry or other captive birds are on the premises — such as chickens, turkeys, peafowl, ducks, geese, pigeons or doves. Transmission can occur among birds by drinking contaminated water;


— Attempt to rehome healthy indoor pet birds rather than bringing them to the shelter. If you need to give up your pet bird, San Diego Humane Society offers rehoming tools that allow you to find a new home for the bird and place them directly with their new family. In the meantime, pet birds should be restricted from interacting with any new birds and should not have outdoor exposure;

— If engaging in outdoor activity in areas with waterfowl and other waterbirds, wash clothing and disinfect footwear and equipment before traveling to other areas or interacting with domestic or pet birds;

— Do not handle sick or dead wildlife. If it is necessary to do so, it is recommended to wear impermeable gloves and use an inverted plastic bag, shovel or other tool. Afterward, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, and change clothes before having contact with domestic or pet birds; and

— The public may report dead wild birds using the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's mortality reporting form and sick and dead poultry may be reported to the CDFA hotline at 866-922-2473.

Signs for avian influenza include sudden death and increased mortality in a flock, neurological signs such as tremors of head and neck, inability to stand or paralysis, low appetite, lethargy and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, sneezing, nasal discharge and coughing, swelling of the head, eyelids, neck and hocks and purple discoloration of legs.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the risk to the general public's health from the current bird flu viruses are low.