How to Prevent Bird Flu in Chickens
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of a highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in several states.
Confirmed cases have been both for flocks of commercial poultry as well as backyard flocks of mixed species of birds. With the reemergence of these highly transmittable HPAI comes a renewed focus on the importance of better biosecurity practices to protect your flock of birds.
What is the Avian Flu?
Avian Influenza, or bird flu, is an infectious disease of birds, including poultry, caused by certain types of influenza A virus. AI viruses can cause mild to severe illness in birds and may lead to death. There are many different subtypes of avian influenza viruses that vary in their severity, transmissibility between species, and geographic distribution.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus is the most contagious form of the avian flu and is responsible for causing large-scale outbreaks of the disease in poultry operations. HPAI spreads rapidly among birds, resulting in large numbers of sick and dead birds within a few days after the initial outbreak. HPAI does not usually spread directly from bird to human, but it can be transmitted through direct contact with infected birds or their environment.
Why The Current Outbreak of Avian Flu Is So Severe
This isn’t the first time that avian flu has been in the news. In 2015, an outbreak of HPAI was confirmed in several states and continued to spread, but this outbreak only lasted a few months before it was contained.
The current HPAI outbreak has been ongoing for more than a year with no signs of slowing down. One of the biggest contributors to the severity and duration of this outbreak is the role of migratory birds. Geese and waterfowl carry and spread the disease as they move around and become intermingled with residential geese and waterfowl.
Migratory birds pass the disease to residential or non-migratory flocks, creating a cycle of transmission that is difficult to stop. Geese and other waterfowl are one of the primary reasons why the current HPAI outbreak continues to thrive and impact the poultry industry and consumer markets.
Fight the Spread of HPAI with Flight Control® Max
Protecting non-migratory and residential birds from the spread of HPAI is critical, and one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the current outbreak is by keeping wild birds away from poultry house farms. Wild birds such as geese and wild ducks are believed to be one of the major factors in transmitting highly pathogenic HPAI, so limiting contact and exposure is essential.
Even foot traffic from humans walking through fecal matter from wild birds can be enough to compromise the biosecurity. Every effort to keep wild birds away from your farm is crucial for protecting your poultry flock, and Flight Control® Max is an effective and proven solution for keeping wild birds away from chicken dwellings and bird feed stations.
Developed under partnership with the USDA, Flight Control® Max is an EPA registered product manufactured by Arkion Life Sciences. It is applied to turf and will prevent birds from becoming comfortable in treated areas and conditions them to avoid entering selected areas.
Flight Control® Max is labeled for Canada Geese, however all birds react when introduced to and ingest a tiny amount of the product. Flight Control® Max is non-toxic, waterproof, odorless and environmentally friendly.
Domestic Poultry Affected
The ongoing HPAI outbreak has affected a wide range of domestic and commercial poultry operations, from large production facilities to backyard flocks. While the overall impact has been great throughout the industry, some are more vulnerable than others due to their geographic locations or lack of biosecurity protocols.
Avian flu affects domestic birds including:
How is the Spread of Avian Flu Impacting the Poultry Industry?
The spread of HPAI has caused a great deal of disruption in the poultry industry, with many producers facing increased costs and decreased profits.
In some cases, entire farms have had to be depopulated due to the severity of the disease. As farms have had to depopulate their flocks, fewer chickens are available for sale in the market. This has caused an increase in both prices and a decrease in the amount of product available for purchase.
Rising Egg Prices
HPAI has also impacted consumer markets as poultry products become increasingly scarce or unaffordable. Egg prices have been particularly affected, as supplies are reduced due to the culling of birds in infected flocks.
The majority of poultry production in the United States is performed on commercial farms. These large-scale operations have been hit the hardest by HPAI, with some having to depopulate entire flocks, resulting in major financial losses.
While commercial farms have been more severely impacted by HPAI, backyard flocks are also at risk. These smaller operations may lack the biosecurity protocols and resources of larger producers, making them more vulnerable to the disease.
What Causes the Spread of Avian Flu?
HPAI spreads from bird to bird. Wild birds, particularly waterfowl such as geese and wild ducks, are one of the major factors in transmitting highly pathogenic strains of avian flu, which is why it’s so important to limit a domestic flock’s exposure and contact with wild birds.
How Is Avian Flu Transmitted?
Direct contact with infected birds is the primary method of transmission. However, infected birds can also spread the virus to healthy birds through feces, saliva, and mucus. Contact with contaminated equipment, farming materials (such as egg flats or crates), surfaces, or environments can also contribute to the spread of HPAI.
How to Prevent Avian Flu in Chickens
It is essential for poultry producers and enthusiasts to take every precaution possible to protect their birds from HPAI. The following strategies can help reduce the risk of transmission:
Cover Your Chicken
Run and Coop
Use Flight Control® Max to Protect Your Flock
The importance of biosecurity on farms is of critical importance for the health of your flock. In addition to other measures being taken to protect your birds from disease, Flight Control® Max is another great tool to combat the spread of Avian Influenza.
By applying Flight Control® Max to your property, you can keep wild geese and other birds away from your flock. Flight Control® Max provides a safe and humane way to repel wild birds, limiting the risk of exposure to Avian Influenza and other infectious diseases.
Learn More About Flight Control® Max
Signs of Avian Flu in Chickens
Avian flu can cause severe symptoms in poultry, and it can spread quickly to other birds in your flock. It is important to recognize the signs of avian flu in birds so you can take preventive measures if necessary. So, how do you know if your chickens have avian flu? There are a few signs and symptoms to watch for among your flock, including:
What to Do If You Suspect Avian Flu in Your Flock
If you suspect your flock may be infected with avian influenza, you need to contact your state or local veterinarian or the USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593 to report the infection. Additionally, at this time, you should report all unusual deaths and sick birds in the same way – even if you haven’t noticed other symptoms, reporting these incidents is critical in understanding and mitigating the spread of HPAI.
Once you’ve notified a veterinarian or the USDA, they will provide you with further instructions on how to proceed. This may include culling (humanely killing) the infected birds, disposing of the carcasses, and implementing a disinfection plan for the coop and other contaminated areas.
Can Chickens Survive Avian Flu?
The Impact of Avian Flu Spread on the Poultry Industry
Avian influenza is a serious threat to poultry producers and the industry as a whole. A confirmed outbreak of HPAI can lead to major economic losses for producers, and it can also have an impact on export markets. The USDA monitors avian flu outbreaks closely and has implemented strict biosecurity protocols to reduce the risk of transmission.
The ongoing HPAI outbreak in the US has already resulted in significant losses and disruptions, including the following effects:
Immediate & Long-Term Bird Losses
When a domestic bird has been infected with HPAI, it must be culled (humanely killed) to prevent the spread of the virus. In some cases, whole flocks must be euthanized to stop the spread of the virus.
These measures for disease control can result in significant financial losses for producers and a decrease in supply for the US poultry market.
Lost Income for Farmers
In addition to the immediate losses from euthanized birds, producers may also experience a reduction in their income due to disrupted production. Quarantines and movement restrictions mean that poultry farmers cannot ship or sell their eggs or chickens, leading to further economic losses.
As a result of culling and market disruptions, the US poultry industry has experienced significant production declines. Domestic egg production – as well as chicken, turkey, and duck production – have all been affected by the avian flu outbreak, resulting in the growing scarcity of certain products.
In some cases, a confirmed avian flu outbreak in one state may lead to an import ban from other states or countries. This can further disrupt the poultry industry and reduce available supply as producers are unable to ship or export their products.
Rising Prices for Consumers
The shortage of poultry products due to the HPAI outbreak has led to higher prices for consumers. As demand has risen and supply has decreased, retail prices for eggs and poultry have gone up significantly in some areas. Inflated prices are likely to continue until production levels return to pre-outbreak levels.
Avian Flu Map
Between 2022 and 2023, HPAI has spread across many parts of the US. The USDA’s Avian Flu Map provides a visual representation of confirmed case locations and the extent of the outbreak.
At the time of writing, avian flu locations in the US include 816 outbreaks in 408 counties across 47 states.
Avian Flu Timeline
- Outbreaks of HPAI H5 viruses were reported across 21 states and Canada from January through June.
- A smaller outbreak of HPAI H7N8 occurred in a small North American flock, with LPAI H7N8 detected in 8 nearby turkey flocks, as well.
- From late 2016 through early 2017, cases of HPAI H5N8 were confirmed in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, afflicting wild birds and domestic flocks.
- China confirmed nearly 700 human infections of H7N9 viruses, contributing to the largest documented epidemic of Asian lineage since 2013.
- The HPAI H5N6 and H5N8 viruses became the predominant variants of bird flu affecting Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
- Between November 2003 and May 2019, there had been reports of 861 human cases of H5N1 virus infection and 455 deaths from 17 countries.
- In March 2020, US turkey farms reported outbreaks of LPAI H7N3 and HPAI H7N3.
- Gene-swapping between wild bird and poultry viruses contributed to the emergence of HPAI H5N1, which were first identified in Europe in the fall of 2020.
- In March 2021, reports of the HPAI H5N8 virus in seals emerged from the UK, Germany, and Denmark.
- In May of the same year, during an outbreak of HPAI among wild birds, the HPAI H5N1 virus was detected in wild fox kits at a Netherlands rehabilitation center.
- Between late 2021 and early 2022, the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH, formerly OIE) determined that HPAI H5N1 was the predominant virus responsible for outbreaks around the world.
- In January 2022, the USDA/APHIS reported the first HPAI H5N1 infection in wild birds since 2016.
- The first HPAI detection in commercial poultry in the US since 2020 occurred in February 2022, affecting turkeys in a commercial poultry facility.
- From May through December 2022 in the United States alone, cases of HPAI H5 viruses have been detected in fox kits, bobcats, coyote pups, raccoons, skunks, mink, otters, lynxes, polecats, badgers, raccoon dogs, seals, sea lions, and bears.
Frequently Asked Questions About Avian Flu
You might have some questions, and we’re here to help! Below are some questions that we often get. If you have your own question, please let us know by giving us a call or filling out the form below.
The signs of avian flu illness in birds include sudden death; lack of energy, appetite, and coordination; purple discoloration and/or swelling of various body parts; diarrhea; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; and reduced egg production and/or abnormal eggs.
These viruses naturally spread among wild aquatic birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. Bird flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with bird flu viruses have occurred.
The incubation period for avian influenza is highly variable depending on the strain, species, and other factors. Generally, the incubation period is between 1 and 7 days, though it may be as long as 17 days.
As of early April 2023, 47 states have reported the HPAI H5N1 virus in poultry, including Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Pennsylvania.
Unless you keep domestic poultry, there is currently no official recommendation to take down bird feeders or stop feeding birds. Avian flu is less of a risk for wild songbirds, but you should still regularly clean your bird feeders if you continue to feed the wildlife.
It is important to follow the guidelines issued by the USDA/APHIS and your state wildlife or agriculture department.
While there are vaccines available for avian influenza, there are not authorized for large-scale distribution on poultry farms, as administration of the vaccine at scale limits surveillance testing.
Currently, researchers in the US are working on developing a more effective vaccine for chickens that protects against future strains of HPAI viruses, as well.
Humans can get infected with avian influenza A viruses, but this is rare. As of April 2023, only one case of human infection has been reported in the US during the ongoing outbreak.
Cats, as well as other mammals like foxes or dogs, can become infected with avian influenza. If your cat demonstrates symptoms such as fever, listlessness, difficulty breathing, or conjunctivitis, contact your veterinarian.
Eggs in the retail market are safe to eat even during an avian flu outbreak, providing you abide by safe food handling practices. Because of the rapid onset of symptoms and the effects of bird flu on egg-producing poultry, eggs that reach the shelves are unlikely to be contaminated, and proper preparation (cooking eggs to at least 160 degrees) will kill the virus if it is contaminated.
Biomolecular techniques such as genetic sequencing, bioinformatics, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are being used to identify the source of avian flu outbreaks and track the spread of the virus. This helps researchers understand how the virus is evolving over time and how it may be affecting different species.
No. Infected birds must be culled by authorities to prevent further spread of the disease.
Combat the Spread of Avian Influenza With Flight Control® Max
Keep your flock safe and keep wild birds away by applying Flight Control® Max around poultry houses, ponds, and other areas on farms that wild birds use or walk through. Limiting exposure and interaction with wild birds like geese will help mitigate your flock’s exposure to potentially infectious and contagious HPAI.
Spraying Flight Control® Max on turf around ponds can create a buffer zone that geese and ducks will try to avoid. Keeping sprayed areas clear of these wild birds and their feces is a great way to prevent contamination. You can purchase Flight Control® Max through local distributors all across the country or directly from Arkion Life Sciences. The mix rate is ½ gallon per acre.