Pet parrot in Washtenaw County dies of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza as 'severe' outbreak spreads

A persistent strain of bird flu is continuing to press through Michigan and around the U.S. On Monday, it was confirmed in a pet parrot that stayed at a home in Washtenaw County that succumbed to the virus.

The unusual infection of a domesticated bird catching a virus which is usually reported in wild birds underscores the severity of the spread. 

The ongoing outbreak of aviary flu has gotten so bad that at least one university in the Midwest has asked people to put away baths and feeders where birds to gather.

In an online post at the Raptor Center, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center asked people "to not encourage birds to gather together at places such as bird feeders and bird baths. These are places where things like viruses could easily be exchanged between individuals."

The Raptor Center, which operates as veterinarian clinic for injured owls, eagles, and other wild birds had euthanize a family of great horned owls after they became infected by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

Dr. Victoria Hall at the center said the current outbreak "is very different" due to the high levels of transmission found in wildlife. 

That's the consensus from Michigan wildlife experts as well, who labeled the spread of HPAI as "very concerning" due to both its potential impact to public health and the country's supply chain. 

"This outbreak is severe," said Dr. Megan Moriarty, wildlife veterinarian with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "It seems to be affecting a lot of wild birds throughout the U.S. and a lot of domestic birds as well."

HPAI has been been making its way through Michigan the past few months, finally being detected in the state's Upper Peninsula, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development last week. 

On Monday MDARD announced it had also found the virus in a domestic parrot at a home in Washtenaw County. 

Where has Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza been found in Michigan?

Until last Friday, the virus had been found in non-commercial poultry birds in Menominee, Kalamazoo, Livingston, and Macomb Counties, as well as in wild flocks in Monroe, and St. Clair Counties. 

On Monday, the first case of HPAI was reported in a domesticated parrot that died from the flu. 

The infection was unusual due to bird flu-related viruses typically spreading in mostly wild birds. In events where a domesticated bird becomes ill with the virus, it's likely through contact with contaminated material like food, cage furnititure, or an owner's clothing. 

What is HPAI?

While HPAI does not pose any immediate public health threat to humans, it can prove fatal to many wild species of avian. It can easily spread through contact with infected poultry, equipment, and on the clothing of poultry caretakers. 

Birds also pass it along through their feces.

It's not always clear what symptoms birds might show if they are infected with HPAI. Some species like songbirds and seabirds are known to carry it without showing signs, while raptors can get severely sick and rapidly die from the virus. 

When a bird is infected by the virus, it can lead to mild symptoms like ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production, or something more serious that attacks the birds organs. It has a 90-100% mortality rate in chickens, which is why it's such a concern if it found its way into a commercial flock.

Is HPAI dangerous to humans?

There are very rare cases of humans being infected by HPAI, with illnesses ranging from no symptoms and mild illness to severe disease that do result in death. 

Reported symptoms in humans include eye redness, flu-like symptoms, and pneumonia. 

No human cases of HPAI have been reported since the recent strain began spreading around the state and U.S. 

Ways of reducing spread of HPAI

Its detection across Michigan has prompted warnings from both MDARD and DNR about "increasing biosecurity" measures to help protect bird flocks. So far, confirmed cases have been isolated to wild birds and officials do not believe there is any threat to the supply chain. 

"As wild birds continue their spring migration and spread the disease, it’s critical Michigan’s backyard and commercial flock owners take every possible precaution to protect their birds through biosecurity. Maintaining the health of Michigan’s domestic birds is a team effort," said state Veterinarian Dr. Nora Wineland. 

"Now more than ever, it is essential poultry owners to take every step possible to keep wild birds away from their flocks and follow strict biosecurity measures," she added in a release.

Some of those measures include:

  • Preventing contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing them indoors
  • Washing hands before and after handling birds as well as when moving between different coops.
  • Disinfecting boots and other gear
  • Using well or municipal water as drinking water for birds
  • Keep poultry feed secure and isolated from other potential contaminants