On Feb. 14, 2022, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in birds in two states – a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia, and a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky.

This was the first time the disease has been found in Virginia and poultry owners and industry members alike need to take precautions to protect their flocks from the incurable disease, says Michael Persia, an associate professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist of poultry nutrition and management in the Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.

Anyone involved with poultry production from the small backyard to the large commercial producer should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and an available toolkit.

“The disease could be economically devastating to industry and could also cause backyard owners to lose their entire flock,” Persia says. “To help protect flocks, it’s important to take practical biosecurity measures to reduce and eliminate potential sources of infection.”

These safety measures include:

  • Reduce and eliminate any interaction with wild birds, especially migratory water fowl, who carry the disease
  • Keep birds indoors. If not possible, keep the birds under cover outdoors.
  • Use a dedicated pair of footwear for taking care of the birds to reduce the chance of bringing something into their habitat.
  • Do not feed or provide water outside. Feeding and hydration should be done indoors, which discourages wild birds from interacting with the habitat.
  • Wear clean clothes or have a dedicated coverall when interacting with the birds.
  • Wash hands before and after any bird interactions.

While poultry owners may not know if their birds have the disease, there are common symptoms of avian influenza which are often present:

  • Unexplained mortality is common with this strain of avian flu. If unexplained mortality is seen, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services should be contacted immediately.
  • The birds are quieter than normal
  • Decrease in feed or water intake
  • Diarrhea with a green hue
  • Sneezing or coughing, as avian influenza is a respiratory disease
  • Discolored and swollen face/head and hocks

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these avian influenza detections do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States.

As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit kills bacteria and viruses.

To help reduce the spread of the avian influenza, report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to the State Veterinarian’s Office at 804-786-2483 or at vastatevet@vdacs.virginia.gov or through the USDA’s toll-free number, 866-536-7593.

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