A highly contagious avian influenza was detected earlier in February and confirmed in domestic birds the United States.

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 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.

“The disease could cause backyard owners to lose their entire flock, and could be economically devastating to industry,” Persia said. “To help protect flocks of all sizes, 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

"Commercial poultry producers are aware of this and have been preparing through ehnahced biosecurity and surveillance," Persia said. "Many of these same steps and measures can be used on a smaller scale for backyard flocks."

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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