Monday, February 14, 2022

Bird flu making its way through the U.S.

Dr. Dana Dobbs
WSDA avian health lead

If you want to protect your flock from avian influenza, now is the time to get serious about biosecurity.

What started last year with detections of avian influenza abroad, has now entered the United States via the Atlantic Flyway (north-south flyway for migratory birds in the Americas). The disease was first confirmed in wild waterfowl, specifically dabbling ducks, in North and South Carolina.

Last week, USDA has confirmed H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. This week detections were seen in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky and a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia.

State and federal officials, as well as the commercial poultry producers continue to react swiftly to contain the disease and establish a Control Area, or quarantine zone. The unified emergency response, epidemiological investigation, and surveillance efforts are in progress. 

During routine surveillance by USDA’s Wildlife Services officials detected “Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza” (LPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. These waterfowl can carry and spread the virus without appearing sick. While HPAI detections have not been made near Washington yet, it is time to get serious about biosecurity to protect your flock. 

The best way to prevent birds from becoming infected is to keep the virus from reaching your birds in the first place. That means learning the signs of infection and practicing good biosecurity. Signs of HPAI infection may include: nasal discharge and sneezing, sudden death (with or without clinical signs), decreased feed or water intake, swollen and or purple colored wattles, combs, and legs, decreased egg production, and more. While there are many elements to biosecurity, here are a few basics.

Limit contact with your birds

Do not allow visitors and animals to have access to your birds. People who work with your birds should not own or be around other birds.

Anyone that must interact with your birds should wear disposable boot covers, rubber boots, or have the ability to clean and disinfect their shoes before and after their visit. During periods of heightened disease risk, bring your birds inside or under cover if at all possible and limit contact with wild waterfowl and their droppings.

Keep it clean

Have dedicated shoes and clothing for handling your birds. In addition, scrub shoes with a scrub brush to remove droppings, mud, and debris before cleaning and disinfecting Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or apply a disinfectant, such as hand sanitizer, before entering your bird area. Disposable latex gloves are another valuable addition to your toolbox and can help prevent the spread of disease.

Don't bring disease home

If you visit a place that has birds or where bird owners may visit, like a feed store, clean and disinfect your vehicle and anything else that travelled with you. Shower and change clothes before visiting your flock.

Keep new birds separate from the flock for at least 30 days and only purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) approved sources. This also applies to any birds that have recently returned from fairs or exhibitions. They may have been exposed to disease while they were away and may look healthy at first.  

Don't share equipment, feed, or other items such as cages with other bird owners. If you must share equipment, ensure that it has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected first.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) program has a detailed checklist to enhance your flock’s biosecurity efforts, and other useful tips may be found at the Defend the Flock Resource Center. 

Please report any unusual or high rates of illness or death in your flocks to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056. Learn more at 

Together, we can keep our birds safe and protected from avian influenza.