Poultry owners encouraged to practice biosecurity to protect their birds from HPAI
The first cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in 2023 were confirmed in North Dakota in a Mallard duck in McHenry County on April 5 and in a commercial turkey flock in Dickey County on April 17.
“The primary carriers of avian influenza A are waterfowl, gulls, terns and shorebirds,” says Dr. Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “Wild birds can be infected without showing symptoms of the infection. While waterfowl are the primary carriers, positive cases are being documented in predatory birds and mammals.”
The best way to reduce the potential for transmission of HPAI is to reduce interaction between wildlife and domestic flocks.
“Wild birds and mammals, such as foxes, coyotes and raccoons, are transmission vectors to your domestic flocks,” says Dr. Stokka.
With wild birds and mammals testing positive for HPAI, hunters, homeowners and landowners should be aware of what steps to take if they see sick or deceased wildlife, advise NDSU Extension specialists.
While the transmission rate from animals to humans is low, it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be shared between species. Hunters participating in spring season should be aware of the risk of HPAI in wildlife and use measures to prevent transmission to domestic poultry flocks. Sick wildlife may display neurological symptoms.
“Dogs are not at high risk to contract the virus,” says Dr. Stokka. “However, there have been documented cases of dogs transmitting HPAI to domestic flocks. If your dog has interacted with wildlife, take measures to keep them away from poultry.”
“One of the first clinical signs of HPAI is sudden, unexplained death,” says Dr. Stokka. “Most HPAI cases are reporting a decline in water and feed consumption prior to the unexplained death.”
Decreased egg production and depression in layers may be another sign that birds are not feeling well. Purple or dry combs, being quieter than normal, frequent laying down and swelling around eyes are other symptoms birds may experience.
“Due to flooding in many parts of North Dakota, there is an increased potential of interaction between the virus and susceptible animals, such as backyard flocks,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “The HPAI virus can survive in water for extended periods, consequently flooding increases the risk of transmission to domestic birds.”
NDSU Extension specialists have developed tips for reducing transmission of HPAI.
To reduce transmission between wildlife and domestic birds:
- If possible, keep poultry housed until the risk for transmission has decreased. Non-lethal methods to deter wildlife are available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife damage webpage: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/ct_wildlife+damage+management+technical+seriesusda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage/sa_reports/ct_wildlife+damage+management+technical+series.
- Reduce the attractiveness for wildlife to stop at your place by cleaning up litter and spilled feed around your domestic flock housing.
- If you come in contact with or handle wildlife, change into clean clothes, wash your hands and disinfect your footwear prior to contact with domestic flocks.
- Report sick or deceased wildlife to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at https://gf.nd.gov/wildlife/diseases/mortality-report.
- In the event you need to handle or dispose of carcasses to reduce potential interactions, be sure to follow the appropriate procedures: edu/agriculture/ag-hub/highly-pathogenic-avian-influenza.
- Restrict use of standing water or ponds that wild birds can access.
To reduce transmission between domestic flocks:
- Keep your distance. Restrict access to your property and your flock. Allow contact from people who care for your birds but minimize visitors.
- Do not haul disease home. If you have been near other poultry or bird owners, such as at feed stores, clean and disinfect car and truck tires. New birds should be kept separate from your flock for at least 30 days.
- Do not borrow disease from your neighbor. Do not share lawn and garden equipment, tools or bird supplies with your neighbor or other flock owners.
“The best defense against HPAI is having a biosecurity plan in place,” says Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist. “It is your job as a flock owner to create a line of separation between your clean flock and the potential unclean issues that wildlife or visitors may bring.”
More information about biosecurity can be found on the USDA Defend the Flock Resource Center webpage: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program.
“Poultry testing positive for HPAI are prohibited by law from entering the marketplace,” says Meehan. “Poultry and poultry products are safe to eat, and proper handling and cooking is always advised.”
Report sick birds to your local veterinarian. If you do not have a local veterinarian for your flock, contact the North Dakota State Veterinarian’s office at 701-328-2655.