Mar 13, 2015

Backyard Chickens & Avian Influenza: What to Do About Bird Flu

 This article is intended to arm backyard chicken keepers with the tools they need to defend against this rapidly-spreading bird flu in North America.
Poultry flocks in Canada, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Missouri, Idaho, Arkansas and Wisconsin were annihilated in 2015 by the highly contagious, fast-moving and über-deadly H5N2 avian influenza virus. While Bird Flu has primarily affected commercial poultry populations, this article is intended to arm backyard chicken keepers with the tools they need to defend against Bird Flu in North America.
1/15/16 UPDATE:  The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. This is a different strain of HPAI than the strains that caused the 2015 outbreak. The same precautions below apply with particular emphasis on avoiding wild waterfowl.

Avian influenza (AI, also known as bird flu) is a highly contagious, infectious bird disease caused by various strains of the influenza virus. Bird flu is spread primarily by migrating waterfowl via their droppings. Anyone or anything that comes in contact with infected droppings can transmit the virus to other birds.
WHAT IS AVIAN INFLUENZA?
Avian influenza (AI, also known as bird flu) is a highly contagious, infectious bird disease caused by various strains of the influenza virus. Bird flu is spread primarily by migrating waterfowl via their droppings. Anyone or anything that comes in contact with infected droppings can transmit the virus to other birds. "[Bird flu] rides the wind, lives in water, can attach itself to clothes, tires, shovels, manure spreaders…..anything."1  Avian influenza should scare the heck out of all backyard chicken keepers.

Some of the bird flu viruses infect humans, but most do not. While there is not now a concern for human health with the H5N2 virus, bird flu viruses have mutated in the past. All backyard chicken keepers, farmers and commercial poultry growers play a role in controlling and limiting the impact of avian influenza.
Bird flu is spread primarily by migrating waterfowl via their droppings. Anyone or anything that comes in contact with infected droppings can transmit the virus to other birds
FLOCK IMPACT OF BIRD FLU
Regardless of flock size or ownership, when avian influenza is confirmed, the birds that have not already died from the virus are euthanized. In Minnesota recently, a commercial turkey barn containing ~15,000 birds was reduced to 100 in a number of days from the virus- the survivors were immediately quarantined and humanely euthanized. The result would be the same for a backyard flock. There is no such thing as reducing losses in backyard flocks with avian influenza, so there is no need for discussion of survivors being carriers- once the virus is confirmed, the entire flock is euthanized.
Regardless of flock size or ownership, when avian influenza is confirmed, the birds that have not already died from the virus are euthanized.
This bird was euthanized & tested negative for AI.
BIRD FLU SYMPTOMS
  • Sudden death without any clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production and/or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks 
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs (looks like bruising)
  • Runny nose, coughing, sneezing
  • Stumbling or falling down
  • Diarrhea
Practicing good biosecurity limits the risk of bird flu spreading.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT BIRD FLU
Good biosecurity practices limit the risk of bird flu.
ISOLATE your birds from potential bird flu carriers coming from high risk locations. 
High-risk locations include all poultry yards, poultry swaps, poultry shows, livestock auctions, fairs and feed stores. 
Potential bird flu carriers include: people, (including you and other poultry keepers) clothing, shoes, equipment, (shovels, tractors, wheelbarrows, car tires) and all wildlife.
Don't attract wild birds to the area with bird feeders or bird baths.
Control the rodent and fly populations in the chicken yard.
Avoid visiting other chicken yards, farms, poultry shows, ag fairs, chicken swaps, auctions or other places live birds are found during a crisis. 
CLEAN & DISINFECT
Any potential carriers entering the chicken yard from high risk areas should be cleaned & equipment, disinfected.  Require visitors to change clothing and wear disposable shoe covers and wash hands before entering the yard. Change your clothes, wear clean shoes & wash hands when returning home from high risk areas.
Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. Annika McKillop, properly attired to treat her patients at home.
Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. Annika McKillop, properly attired to treat her patients at home.
I use un-activated Oxine to disinfect (1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water). Oxine is 200x more effective than chlorine bleach & safer. It quickly biodegrades into common table salt. Learn more about Oxine here and here
Avoid bringing pathogens back to your chicken yard on clothes, boots, animal carriers/cages and shared farm equipment.  Clean and disinfect & footwear worn in high risk areas such as other chicken yards, poultry swaps, etc.
QUARANTINE newly acquired birds properly. Better yet, don't bring new bird into the flock at all, particularly from a swap meet, auction or a breeder that is not NPIP certified. It's just not worth the risk of losing one's entire flock.
Bird flu, Limit the risk. Properly quarantine newly acquired birds. Better yet, don't bring new bird into the flock at all, particularly from a swap meet, auction or a breeder that is not NPIP certified.
IDENTIFY & REPORT BIRD FLU VICTIMS
Obtain necropsies of birds that die of unknown causes. (see state veterinary pathology labs link below)
Chicken Necropsy preparations
Be aware of the symptoms of avian influenza (above) and report sick birds IMMEDIATELY to any of the following:
    • Your chickens' veterinarian (list of board certified avian vets HERE)
    • Your state veterinary diagnostic laboratory  (*MA lab HERE, NH lab  HERE)
    • Your state veterinarian (list HERE)
    • The USDA's Veterinary Services at 1-866-536-7593
    • Your state Agricultural Extension Service's poultry agent (list HERE)
Visit WattAgNet.com to track AI Outbreaks in North America.
 Track avian influenza outbreaks in North American poultry at www.WattAgNet.com

Sources & Further Reading:
Avian Flu Found on Turkey Farms Supplying Butterball

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