Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Protecting Not Only Your Poultry, But Other Livestock

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, is commonly known as the bird flu. It’s extremely infectious, highly fatal, and has been spread throughout the entire poultry industry—backyard chickens, turkeys, and more. It is primarily spread by infected wild waterfowl such as ducks and geese.

 

If you’d like to learn more about HPAI in California please visit February 2024 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Update, on SoCal Nestbox.

 

Several black and white cows look at the camera while standing on green grass with trees in the background.

More recently, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza has evolved to be transmitted between birds, marine mammals, and livestock like goats and dairy cows. 

The recent detections of HPAI in backyard goats and in commercial dairy cows is particularly concerning in that historically the HPAI virus (and this version of the HPAI virus called H5N1) only seemed to infect avian species with a “focus” on chickens. This article is intended to provide an accurate summary and advise on how to protect all your backyard livestock from HPAI.

 

HPAI Detections in Livestock

 

On March 20th, 2024, a farm located in Stevens County in Minnesota had goat kids test positive for HPAI. These kids along with other goats on the farm were housed together with poultry, sharing the same space and water source. When the poultry contracted HPAI it was then spread to newborn goats with weakened immune systems that contributed to their deaths.

 

Then, on March 25th, the United States Department of Agriculture reported detections of HPAI in dairy cattle and unpasteurized milk from Texas and Kansas.

While researchers are still trying to better understand how the virus infected the cows, the virus was found in the highest concentrations in the milk. Interestingly, on some of the commercial dairies, feral cats also tested positive. There are two likely conclusions from this:

 

  1. The feral cats got the virus from drinking raw infected milk which can be common on some dairy farms.
  2. The feral cats hunted infected wild waterfowl and then transmitted the virus to the cows.

 

It will take time to better understand the route(s) of infection but it is important to recognize that this version of HPAI has the potential to spread to various pets and is not just a “chicken virus.”

 

Your Role in Preventing the Spread

 

Implementing good biosecurity practices ensures not only your flock’s safety from HPAI, but that other livestock that you may raise or those in the surrounding areas don’t contract it as well. This outbreak continues to affect the poultry industry and beyond, but by executing the following you can prevent the spread: 

 

  • If poultry are housed with other animals, have each species receive their own water source, pen, and be confined separately if possible.
  • Start having clothing and shoes designated for when you work and interact with your backyard flock. This way, you reduce the risk of transmitting HPAI when you travel or interact with other birds/bird owners. 
  • Isolate sick birds and immediately figure out their illness or why sudden death may have occurred. Contact your local veterinarian or use the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System.

 

For more detailed information on tips and resources to prevent the spread of HPAI, please visit Preparing for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in SoCal: Tips and Resources for Backyard Owners. The information can apply to your flock, no matter where you may live!

 

Conclusion 

 

You play a crucial role as a backyard producer and owner of poultry in preventing and treating the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. This infectious, fatal virus continues to affect the poultry industry and beyond as it has been found in other livestock like goats and dairy cattle just last month (March 2024). When you practice good biosecurity, limit your interactions with other birds, and house species separately you protect not only your poultry, but other livestock and animals. 

 

Written by Reena Grewal, University of California, Davis Student and Maurice Pitesky and Joseph Gendreau at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

 

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