It is always important to practice proper infection control measures to limit the spread of disease-causing infectious agents, such as viruses. You have probably been made aware of several of these measures by public health officials recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While the recommended protective measures for COVID-19 fill the news, several of the practices are always good habits to use.  They are “biosecurity” practices that stop the spread of many diseases.  Well, guess what, our animals also can share diseases with each other, and their health improves when we use some of these good biosecurity practices to protect them from animal disease also! 

Poultry can experience illness caused by toxins, bacteria, and viruses. Examples of diseases found in backyard chickens are Mycoplasma (caused by bacteria), Coryza, Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT), and Marek’s disease, Avian Influenza and virulent Newcastle Disease (caused by viruses). Given how quickly disease can spread, some tips to keep in mind to keep your poultry healthy follow.  The good news is that these same practices are recommended to stop the spread of human disease also – good habits for many reasons!


Wash hands regularly

One of the best ways to limit the spread of disease is to wash hands often because, as humans, we touch everything and if we touched something that has an infectious agent on it, our “handy” hands can move disease.  To stop the spread of a human-adapted disease like COVID-19 or seasonal flu, health officials recommend washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds often, particularly before touching your face or eating and after touching surfaces with unknown cleanliness. 

Well, similarly, if you happen to touch something that has a virus or bacteria on it that causes disease in your poultry, washing your hands often will protect them, particularly before entering and after leaving their housing area.  In the case that soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.  

Washing your hands is an important step in protecting yourself and protecting your feathered friends!


Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

Health officials remind us to clean objects and surfaces that are touched often. These surfaces may include cellphones, doorknobs, light switches, and drawer handles. Where appropriate, surfaces can be cleaned with soap and water. For disinfection, you can use diluted household bleach solutions or other disinfectants that you trust, while always following the manufacturer’s instructions on the label. 

Sanitation is import to poultry also.  Keeping poultry areas clean and importantly, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that poultry in other flocks may have touched, like shared equipment, feed barrels, etc., will help stop the spread of poultry disease.  Always be sure to disinfect in a ventilated area because disinfectants are often toxic to birds.


Person cleaning sink faucets with a disinfecting wipe


Stay Home

We know staying at home is especially important if you suspect that you are sick. During this time, social distancing must be practiced. This means that people should avoid mass gatherings and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet apart from others. By properly practicing social distancing, we can help limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as prevent vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, from getting sick. 

Likewise, for poultry owners, birds need to be kept separate from birds in other flocks and wildlife. Disease can be spread from wild birds and other wildlife, so owners should protect their flock to the best of their ability by avoiding contact with these groups, as well as limiting visits to other poultry farms and bird owners. If visits to other properties with birds cannot be avoided, take precautions to prevent carrying infectious agents on your clothes, shoes, vehicle, and/or equipment by following good biosecurity principles.

Two people practicing social distancing


Know the symptoms

With any disease, it is important to know the symptoms that might be observed. That way you can take care of yourself, you can take steps to ensure others do not get sick, and medical and other professional help can be sought as soon as possible. For COVID-19, some of the main symptoms include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and tiredness.

Similarly, diseases of poultry have signs.  Sometimes the signs of disease are similar and veterinary help is needed to distinguish one from another so appropriate actions can be taken.  It is particularly important to be familiar with highly infectious diseases like virulent Newcastle Disease of birds –  common signs and symptoms in poultry include gasping, sneezing, twisted neck, paralysis, and diarrhea. There are a number of other diseases that can affect poultry, so owners should be on the lookout for signs of illness in their flock.

Here at SoCal Nestbox, we want to make sure that you are staying healthy and safe always, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please keep the above-mentioned tips in mind to maintain your health and the health of your poultry. 

If you suspect that your bird is sick, it is advisable to get a proper diagnosis from a trusted veterinarian and follow the treatment plan given. If there’s sudden death in your flock or an unusually high number of sick birds, it is critical that you report it. Call the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s sick bird hotline on (866) 922-2473.