JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — Since the beginning of 2022, nearly 140 cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza have been identified in U.S. in the wild bird populations in New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, but the virus can easily spread to domestic poultry. This recently occurred on February 8th when the virus was discovered in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. We are asking our poultry producers to keep eye out for suddenly high mortality and to be prepared to report any suspicious whole flock illness.
What is Avian Influenza (AI)?
Avian Influenza is a highly contagious poultry virus that has the potential to cause large financial losses to the U.S. poultry industry. A highly pathogenic strain (HPAI), H5N1, last hit the U.S. in 2014-2015, and was considered the nation’s largest animal health emergency. Over 200 cases of the disease were found in commercial flocks, backyard flocks, and wild birds. More than 50 million birds were affected and subsequently died or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states.
Where does it come from?
Waterfowl, both wild and domestic, act as carriers. Since the outbreak of 2014-2015, scientists have been monitoring wild bird populations, and waterfowl hunters send their harvested birds in for testing. Wild waterfowl regularly carry low-pathogenic strains of the virus, but it can easily mutate to a highly pathogenic strain, as we’ve seen this year.
If it’s been mainly identified in wild birds, and it’s not yet in NYS, why should I be concerned?
Wild birds follow one of four migratory routes. NYS is located in the Atlantic Flyway, which includes the states with current HPAI findings. It is anticipated that as birds migrate North in the spring, we’ll continue to see the cases in wild birds move with them. It also means that there is an increased potential for the virus to establish in poultry flocks along this route.
How does it spread?
HPAI lives in the respiratory and/or intestinal tract of birds. It can be picked up from contact with infected feces, surfaces, or through the air, though ariel transmission from farm to farm is unlikely. It can be transported on infected feed, clothing, or equipment. Once on the farm, the disease is readily passed from bird to bird, infecting an entire flock quickly.
Which flocks are affected?
Flocks of any size, from back yard to commercial, and any species can be affected.
Any birds can be affected, but birds other than waterfowl react most strongly to the virus. Poultry infected with HPAI may show one or more of the following symptoms:
- Sudden death without clinical signs
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks
- Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
- Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing
A high level of mortality without any clinical signs is known to be a hallmark of the virus. In some cases, expect 100% of the flock to die within a few days. Regardless of how the disease presents, a large portion of the birds in a flock will be affected. Waterfowl may carry the virus but not show symptoms.
What do I do if I think I have HPAI in my flock?
Report it! If your birds are sick or dying, it’s important to report it immediately so that we can stop the spread to any other flocks. You can call:
- Your local veterinarian or flock veterinarian
- The State veterinarian serving your county
- The State Animal Health Diagnostic Center, at (607) 253-3900 or email@example.com
- The USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593
What can I do to manage for it?
Because there is not a vaccine currently available in the U.S. for this disease, keeping it out through biosecurity is going to be the best course of action. The easy-to-follow biosecurity principles below can go a long way to keeping your birds safe from disease:
- Establishing an “all-in, all-out” flock-management policy
- Protecting against exposure to wild birds or water or ground contaminated by wild birds
- Closing bird areas to nonessential personnel or vehicles
- Providing employees with clean clothing and disinfection facilities and directions for their use
- Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) when entering or leaving the farm
- Banning the borrowing or lending of equipment or vehicles
- Banning visits to other poultry farms, exhibitions, fairs, and sales or swap meets (if visits must occur, direct workers to change footwear and clothing on their return)
- Banning bringing birds in slaughter channels back to the farm
If you have any questions about this disease, please contact Amy Barkley at (716) 640-0844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The information used to create this article is shared by the United States Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).
SWNYDLFC is a partnership between Cornell University and the CCE Associations of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben counties. Their team includes Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management (716-640-0522); Camila Lage, Dairy Management (607-422-6788); and Amy Barkley, Livestock Management (716-640-0844). CCE is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.
–Amy Barkley, Livestock and Beginning Farm Specialist
with the SWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program