Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a dangerous disease for poultry, that oftentimes leads to death of not only the individual bird, but the entire flock. It is a highly contagious disease that poultry are extremely susceptible to, that can quickly jump from one flock to another. Not only does this disease affect chickens and turkeys, but also domestic ducks, geese, quail, pheasants, and guinea fowl.
As you may know already, the United States has been hit hard with a widespread Avian Influenza epidemic this year, occurring from January 2022 to present day. Commercial and backyard flocks have been decimated across the country, and several wild bird populations have also taken a hit. The virus reached California this summer and has since spread into several commercial productions and backyard flocks.
Keeping Your Flock Safe
Protecting your backyard flock from this current strain of HPAI should be a priority. Good biosecurity practices are the best way to defend against Avian Influenza. Here are a few tips to do your best to keep HPAI out of your backyard poultry flock:
- Have a designated pair of boots or shoes that you wear into the area your bird’s enclosure. Alternatively, you can use disposable boot covers that you put on every time you go inside your chicken coop.
- Consider placing a disinfecting shoe bath on the outside of your coop that you use to disinfect your shoes and/or boot covers every time you go inside the coop area. A bleach solution diluted to 1% sodium hypochlorite or a disinfectant intended for footbaths should be used. Read more about setting up and using a footbath here.
- Have dedicated clothing that you use only when you are inside your coop area.
- Wash your hands before and after tending to your birds or the area they frequent. If desired or available, wearing disposable latex or nylon gloves can prove useful.
- Eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of time you allow your birds to free range.
- Keep visitors to your backyard flock to a minimum.
- Clean and disinfect tools before and after working with your birds or in the area.
- Keep any wild birds away from your flock.
- Watch for sick birds or a high mortality event.
What to Look For
Even if you practice top-notch biosecurity, sometimes the virus can still find its way to susceptible birds. During this current outbreak of HPAI, we have seen numerous species of birds carrying and succumbing to the virus, rather than mostly waterfowl. Keeping an eye on the well-being of your birds is vital to keeping your flock happy and healthy. Here is a list of symptoms often exhibited by poultry once contracting Avian Influenza:
- Lack of coordination
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Nasal discharge (clear and runny)
- Coughing or wheezing
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, hocks, comb or wattles
- Purple discoloration of the comb or wattles
- Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Dramatic decrease in egg production
- Sudden and unforeseen death
If you have any birds with any of these symptoms, isolate the infected bird(s) and watch the rest of your flock closely. If you have a high mortality event in your flock, contact the California Sick Bird Hotline at: 866-922-2473.