Information about bird flu

Over recent years, Gotland has suffered several outbreaks of avian influenza, or bird flu, in wild birds. To minimise the risk of infection, it is important that people are aware of the virus and how to behave when encountering a sick or dead bird. We have compiled a few frequently asked questions about bird flu.

Bird flu is a type A influenza virus, which can be either low or highly pathogenic. In its highly pathogenic form, bird flu has a high mortality rate among birds and may cause rapidly spreading epidemics. The low pathogenic form of the virus usually causes only mild symptoms. The virus that has been confirmed in Sweden is a highly pathogenic variant called H5N1.

Symptoms may vary from subdued behaviour to signs of neurological disorders, such as ticks and rear-facing head. Birds infected with bird influenza may swim or walk in circles and generally behave abnormally.

Although it is possible for humans to be infected with bird flu, the Public Health Agency of Sweden assesses the risk to be low. The symptoms of bird flu exhibited by humans have varied from one outbreak to the next. Some variants have caused only mild symptoms, such as eye infection, while others have caused mild to severe flu-like symptoms.

The few cases of humans becoming infected by the virus have been traced to handling sick or dead birds. It is therefore vital to take precautions when coming into contact with birds suspected of being infected with bird flu. The Public Health Agency of Sweden recommends avoiding direct contact with birds and bird droppings in areas where an outbreak of bird flu is ongoing. Good hand hygiene is also important, especially after coming into contact with animals.

There are reports from Europe and around the world of mammals being infected. To prevent both other animals and humans being infected with bird flu, it is vital to avoid direct contact with sick or dead birds.

The National Veterinary Institute has confirmed cases of bird flu in foxes. This may present an increased risk that, for example, dogs may be infected. Dog and cat owners are recommended to keep their animals under supervision in areas suspected of having cases of bird flu.

If you see a sick or dead bird, leave it alone.

If you see a sick bird, leave it alone. It may be difficult and distressing, but if the bird is infected with bird flu the disease course is rapid and, unfortunately, the bird cannot be saved. Wild birds with suspected bird flu should not be taken to a veterinarian, as this may contribute to the spread of infection.

Domestic birds can be infected by direct or indirect contact with wild birds. Keep an eye on your birds and keep them away from wild birds. You should also thoroughly clean items such as shoes, utensils, forage and bedding to minimise the risk of bringing infection home with you.