Backyard Poultry and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

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Most poultry producers are aware of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that has been working its way across the country this year. Although there are no reports of HPAI in North Carolina right now, the state has taken steps to prevent future outbreaks by banning all open poultry shows and sales in North Carolina from August 15, 2015 until January 15, 2016. Backyard poultry growers should also be taking steps to prevent outbreaks from occurring on their operations.

Epidemiological reports point to migratory birds as the carriers of the virus. Any birds that have access to the outside are potentially at risk, as they can come into contact with droppings from wild birds. The Veterinary Division is reaching out to backyard and specialty breeders and those with home poultry flocks to make them aware of the risk of keeping birds outside. Commercial flocks are also susceptible, though the risk is much less than the outdoor flocks.

Warning signs include: 1) Lack of energy and appetite; 2) Decreased egg production or misshapen eggs; 3) Swelling of the head, eyelids and comb; 4) Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs; 5) stumbling/falling down/diarrhea; and 6) Sudden death. The most consistent clinical sign is a rapid increase in mortality over several days.
There are some precautions that backyard poultry growers can take to help prevent the spread of avian influenza: 1) Keep chickens and turkeys away from ducks and other waterfowl; 2) Install solid fencing so chickens cannot come in direct contact with neighboring chickens and birds; 3) Keep your birds away from a watering source that migratory birds may use and protect your feed source as well; 4) Buy birds from a reputable source and keep new birds separate from the rest of your flock for 30 days; 5) Do not share feeding equipment with other bird owners; 6) Wash hands thoroughly before and after working with birds. Wear clean clothes and disinfect cages and equipment that come in contact with birds and their droppings. It is best to move all poultry with outside access into bio-secure housing immediately.

By state law, any suspected case of avian influenza should be reported to the Office of the State Veterinarian immediately. Bird owners can also contact the division for help with biosecurity plans or other concerns at 919-733-7601.