(WFXR) — Concerns about avian influenza continue to grow around the Commonwealth, especially after several suspicious bird deaths were reported in southwest Virginia. The big question is, are people and other animals safe from the virus?

The director of operations at the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke, Haley Olsen-Hodges, says if you have birds in your backyard, and you see that they are sick. Then, you need the right protective gear.

“Wearing gloves is a good idea. If you don’t have gloves on, you just make sure that you wash your hands really well, and if you do start getting sick, it’s a good idea that you go to a doctor and let them know ‘hey, I was exposed to a bird,'” said Olsen-Hodges.

According to Olsen-Hodges, it is easy for birds to transmit the virus, which is why farmers who have poultry should try to keep wild birds away from domestic ones.

Another piece of advice from Olsen-Hodges involves taking down all bird-feeders.

“If you own domestic poultry or domestic birds at all that do have outside access, I would recommend taking down bird feeders or birdbaths, the sort of thing that would attract birds,” said Olsen-Hodges.

Olsen-Hodges adds that this is just a safety precaution, especially since this is the time of year birds are not working hard to find food. Meanwhile, birds reportedly feed their young insects instead of seeds.

Besides birds, though, who can catch avian flu?

Michael Persia, a Virginia Tech assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, says it is possible for humans to contract bird flu.

“I think, to date in the U.S., there has been one person who has contracted that and that was a person who was actually dealing directly with infected birds,” said Persia, referring to a Colorado inmate who worked with poultry at a commercial farm as part of a pre-release employment program.

Persia suggests going above and beyond to protect your birds.

“If you walk through just some simple grass, and you might step in some fecal material, and if you take that into your birds,” the Virginia Tech assistant professor said. “So, what we recommend is having a dedicated pair of shoes, washing your hands.”

According to Persia, this isn’t the first time Virginia has seen a bird flu outbreak.

“In this strain, we’ve only had one case. That was reported a couple of months ago now and that was a backyard flock up in northern Virginia. Previously, we have had more localized outbreaks,” said Persia.

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources also reported in late January that at least two wild birds in the Commonwealth were confirmed to have avian influenza.

Persia says avian flu is bad for America’s economy because it is coming at the same time as inflation, the war in Ukraine, the coronavirus pandemic, and more. More specifically, bird flu can impact the supply and demand of eggs

If you see dead birds on your property or if your birds start acting strangely, you need to contact the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services immediately.