CSU Offers Advice on Defending Flocks Against Avian Influenza

(Colorado Department of Agriculture photo)

With the discovery of avian influenza in Colorado flocks of birds, Colorado State University is offering guidance for flock owners to defend against the disease.

Avian influenza is caused by an influenza type A virus, which can infect all birds, including poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, guinea fowl, and quail) and domestic and wild waterfowl. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens and turkeys, and can spread rapidly from flock to flock.

With the recent detections (since February 2022) of the Eurasian H5 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and domestic poultry in the United States, bird owners should review their biosecurity practices and stay vigilant to protect poultry and pet birds from this disease. HPAI has a very high mortality rate, and birds infected with this virus typically do not survive. Vaccines for HPAI are not readily available.

Restrictions in Colorado

After the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the detection of HPAI in wild birds in Sedgwick County, the Colorado Agricultural Commission approved an emergency rule suspending all poultry shows, including meets, sales, swaps, and competitions, beginning March 30 and lasting 90 days.

In 2022, avian influenza has been detected in wild bird species across 31 states. Additionally, there have been detections in the backyard and commercial poultry premises impacting more than 45 million poultry and birds (detections as of April 4, 2022). The USDA tracks all HPAI cases on its website.

  • “Commingling of birds presents a high risk of disease introduction and transmission, and the Department of Agriculture is temporarily suspending all poultry events in our state to help minimize the possibility of highly pathogenic avian influenza affecting backyard and commercial poultry,” said Colorado State Veterinarian Dr. Maggie Baldwin in a press release announcing the emergency rule.“Colorado poultry owners should immediately increase their biosecurity protocols to protect their flocks, including limiting exposure of domestic birds to wild birds and other poultry flocks and limiting the introduction of new birds into flocks.”

Signs of avian influenza:

  • Extreme depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decrease in feed or water intake
  • Swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, wattle, and hocks
  • Decrease in egg production
  • Sudden unexplained death

How is avian influenza transmitted?

  • Foot traffic
  • Secretions from the bird
  • Contact with infected droppings
  • Movement of sick birds
  • Contaminated clothing and equipment

Protecting small flocks from avian influenza
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has expanded its Defend the Flock program to educate all poultry growers about best practices in biosecurity. Please visit the site for more information on how to protect your flock and for the latest information on HPAI in the U.S.

Call your veterinarian if your flock shows signs of influenza or you suspect exposure.

No vet? You can also call:

  • CSU Avian Health Hotline: 970-297-4008
  • Colorado State Veterinarian Office: 303-869-9130
  • USDA Bird Hotline: 1-866-536-7593

Bird owners seeking more resources, like biosecurity plans, signage, and webinars, can visit the Defend the Flock website from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or visit PoultryBiosecurity.org.

A recording of an April 6 HPAI webinar for backyard flock owners is available on YouTube. In addition, the Colorado Department of Agriculture has created a situational report webpage with a map of counties with infected wild or domestic birds.

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