Avian influenza is a dangerous infectious disease that can be spread easily and decimate huge communities of birds. Sometimes referred to as “bird flu”, avian influenza affects the respiratory system of birds and can transmit rapidly through direct bird-to-bird contact, or via contaminated surfaces (fomites) where the virus can linger. Infected birds can spread the virus through their blood, saliva, mucus, or feces. Certain subtypes of bird flu can even jump species and affect dogs, horses, and even humans depending on the strain of the virus. At the time of writing this article (April 2022), there is an ongoing outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United States.
Symptoms of Avian Influenza
- Lack of energy, appetite, and coordination
- Purplish discoloration of various body parts
- Swelling of various body parts
- Watery or green diarrhea
- Nasal discharge
- Coughing and sneezing
- Reduced or abnormal egg production
- Sudden death without any clinical signs
If your pet shows any signs of the flu, you should immediately contact a veterinarian. In California you can also contact the Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-2473 to help identify additional resources or if you see a dead bird the Sick Bird Hotline can help facilitate testing for various infectious diseases including avian influenza.
Influenza in Wild Birds
- Wild birds commonly carry the type A strains of the influenza virus
- Can be carriers of the disease without showing any symptoms
- Majority of the species that can be asymptomatic are ducks, gulls, and shorebirds. However, these birds can also show symptoms and die from the disease.
- Due to their migratory behavior, new more pathogenic viruses can be introduced and can spread to your chickens.
Influenza in Pet Birds
Indoor pet birds have a reduced likelihood of contracting avian influenza compared to backyard poultry since they are by definition inside and not exposed to waterfowl and their droppings. However, there are still several circumstances that pet birds could contract avian influenza:
- If your pet bird spends any time outdoors, they have a chance of being exposed to the virus. Wild infected birds could have contaminated any area outside and therefore puts your pet bird at jeopardy to become infected.
- Where you purchase your birds (indoor and outdoor) is also a very important factor. There are many pet shops that get their inventory of pet birds illegally which can lead to exposure to various diseases including avian influenza.
How to prevent avian influenza from getting into your flock:
It is important to prevent the spread of avian influenza for the protection of your poultry or other pet birds. Because there is no cure, prevention is essential. The following are some basic steps that can not only protect your birds from avian influenza but also protect your birds from other infectious diseases that are commonly carried by wildlife.
- Do not handle wild birds that are sick or dead
- Focus on good biosecurity (i.e. don’t let stuff outside your coop such as wild birds and rodents get into your coop).
- Wash hands before and after handling your birds
- Thoroughly wash and sanitize your bird’s feeders, coop, cage, water bowls, or anything they regularly use
- IF you bring new birds into your coop, quarantine them for 10 days in a separate area to confirm they are healthy and not showing any signs of disease.
- Constantly monitor your bird for any sign of illness and reach out to your veterinarian or to call the Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-2473 with questions.
This article was written by Ari Sallus, Joseph Gendreau, and Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.