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Bird feeders have no health risk for humans during bird flu outbreak; but for the birds? Yep!

Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 6:03 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2022 at 7:16 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The recent bird flu outbreak is triggering many questions from people, including concerns over whether or not they should take down their bird feeders because it’s a potential health hazard.

The answer?

“It depends on whether you’re the bird or the person feeding the bird,” replied Dr. Kip Thompson, a Missouri State University Associate Professor in the Public Health and Sports Medicine Department. “For humans, the risk is relatively low.”

“There’s been no bird-to-human transmission documented, and no cases have been reported,” added Dr. Ashleigh Goris, Mercy’s Manager of Quality and Infection Prevention. “So in the absence of folks that work directly with poultry either commercially or on farms, there really is a minimal-to-no risk of transmission.”

But for birds, as large crowds can be COVID-spreaders for humans, so can feeders be potential spreaders for our feathered friends.

“Think of it as the Omicron of bird flu,” Thompson explained. “It’s very transmissible. So feeders are artificial congregators. They wouldn’t cluster like that normally. When they’re in that close proximity, it definitely increases the risk. Then that one bird gets it and takes it back to its 50-hole condo birdhouse and runs the risk of giving all the other birds the flu.”

Thompson also pointed out that this is the wrong time of year to be trying to halt the spread of the bird flu because birds are migrating over long distances.

“Missouri is a flyway (a flight path used by large numbers of birds while migrating between their breeding grounds and their overwintering quarters),” he said. “There’s already been 33 confirmed cases of migratory birds in Missouri who have tested positive for the virus. So they’re out there, and it just gets worse as you go north. In northern states, they’re over 100 in some cases.”

Large turkey and chicken farms/commercial operations are also highly susceptible. In Missouri alone, farmers have killed more than 400,000 birds. The number nationwide is 27 million.

“If they’re contained in a building, and one bird in that building tests positive, they’ll probably cull that entire building,” Thompson said. “There was a chicken producer in Iowa who lost five million chickens all at one time. In Missouri, I think the largest has been 240,000. That is a substantial hit not only to the farmer but also probably a driving factor in what we see with egg and chicken prices right now.”

“If you do work with poultry like chickens and turkeys, follow your company’s policies for infection prevention and safety,” added Goris.

So if you do decide to take down your feeder for the sake of the birds, you might also wash it with a spray that includes just a few drops of bleach. And hopefully, before long, you’ll be able to put it back up again.

“Flu likes the colder temperatures,” Goris pointed out.

“So as it warms up in the summer, it tends to die down,” Thompson said.

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