Avian Influenza & Biosecurity

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Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has moved from poultry to cattle and, in at least one confirmed case, a human in Texas. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the current avian influenza outbreak “has been confirmed in dairy cattle in eight states: Texas, New Mexico, Michigan, Kansas, Idaho, Ohio, North Carolina, and South Dakota.”  Adding more complications, three cats on an affected farm in Texas also tested positive for the virus. Typically, this virus has not spread from poultry to livestock, pets and humans. Understanding symptoms to monitor, biosecurity prevention measures, reporting process, and resources available for reliable updates is critical to slowing or eliminating disease spread. Examine a few of the frequent questions about this disease below

What are symptoms I should monitor?

Within poultry, watch for:

  • Reduced energy, decreased appetite, and/or decreased activity
  • Lower egg production and/or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, and wattles
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs
  • Difficulty breathing, runny nares (nose), and/or sneezing
  • Twisting of the head and neck, stumbling, falling down, tremors, or circling; and,
  • Greenish diarrhea.

Within Cattle, watch for: 

  • Reduced energy
  • Reduced feeding
  • Reduced milk production
  • Thickening milk with discoloration

What if I find a dead bird or other dead wildlife?

Wild birds and other animals die from many natural causes, so typically there is no cause for alarm or reporting of a single or a few species. However, if one finds significant number of birds or wildlife dead within an small area, report findings to either the NCDA & CS or NC Wildlife Resource Commission.

  • NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Veterinary Division; vetpoultry@ncagr.gov or call (919)-707-2350 option #2
  • NC Wildlife Resources Commission – NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., or email HWI@ncwildlife.org, or call USDA at 866-536-7593.

According to CDC recommendations, people “should avoid unprotected (not using respiratory or eye protection) exposures to sick or dead animals including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds, and other wild or domesticated animals, as well as with animal feces, litter, or materials contaminated by birds or other animals with suspected or confirmed virus infection.”

Are there any restrictions on trade or travel?

Yes, according to Dr. Michael Martin, North Carolina State Veterinarian and the director of the Veterinary Division at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, “We came out with a ban on cattle originating from an affected herd. “So regardless of whether it’s one of these states mentioned, or any future state that might have positive cows, or any US territory that has a herd that meets this clinical description, we are not allowing other cows from those farms, from those herds. So that’s been our step, and then there’s been a couple of other states that have subsequently made similar restrictions.”

For updates on trade, sell or travel restrictions, visit NC State Extension Poultry Extension webpage

Will this impact our food safety?

According to CDC recommendations, people “should avoid unprotected (not using respiratory or eye protection) exposures to sick or dead animals including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds, and other wild or domesticated animals, as well as with animal feces, litter, or materials contaminated by birds or other animals with suspected or confirmed HPAI A(H5N1) virus infection. People should not prepare or eat uncooked or undercooked food or related uncooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or raw cheeses, from animals with suspected or confirmed HPAI A(H5N1) virus infection (avian influenza or bird flu.”  Having thusly stated, one major concern has been the safety of milks. Fortunately, the FDA, the CDC, and the USDA all agree the food supply is safe. Affected milk is not entering the food supply.

Should some odd circumstance results in the virus remaining in milk, then the pasteurization will kill bacteria and viruses. This is the purpose of the process! According to Dr. Michael Martin, North Carolina State Veterinarian and the director of the Veterinary Division at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture “that’s the whole reason why we pasteurized milk: to kill bugs like this various viruses or bacteria. So, the fact that the milk is not entering the food supply and that they’re pasteurizing milk, combined, provides a level of safety and security for the public, regarding milk. So, we’re not looking at this as any kind of food safety issue.”

What actions should I take if I suspect my flock or livestock is infected?

Report it right away! This is the best means to keep HPAI from spreading. Report to:

  • Your flock or local veterinarian
  • NC State Veterinary Office           919-707-3250
  • Your local branch of the NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System
    • Raleigh                        919-733-3986
    • Elkin                            336-526-2499
    • Monroe                       704-289-6448
    • Arden/Fletcher            828-684-8188
    • USDA                          866-536-7593

After you report, a Federal or State animal health official will contact you to learn more about your flock and operation.

What biosecurity measures can I take?

(The following information is provided verbatim from the NCDA & CS Veterinary website 

Keep your flock’s environment isolated from contact with other animals and people.

  • Restrict access to your birds from other animals and people. If possible, fence or house them in an area where they will be protected.
  • Minimize the number of people who come through your birds’ environment. If other people visit your flock, make sure they have not been around other birds within the previous 48 hours and are appropriately clean with clean clothes and shoes/shoe covers.
  • Do not allow your poultry near ponds where they may interact with migrating birds, including ducks and geese.
  • Keep your poultry area clutter-free. Clutter can provide a home for unwanted rodents and other pests. Store bird feed in closed varmint-proof containers or away from your flock, as it may attract other animals that could be harboring disease.

2. Keep Things Clean

Contaminated people or items can carry disease agents to your flock and a dirty environment can increase the chances of your flock getting a preventable disease.

  • When you are working with or around your birds, wear clean clothes including shoes/boots. Clean shoe covers can help as well if your shoes/boots are used for more than going to see your birds. A long-handled scrub brush and disinfectant can help remove droppings and debris from the bottom of your shoes/boots. Many disease agents can survive better in organic material, including feces and dirt, therefore, clean shoes and boots are critical. Consider having dedicated clothing when caring for your flock.
  • If you have been around any other birds or an environment that might have had birds, you should shower and wash your hair before visiting your flock. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your birds and equipment.
  • If you attend events where other birds are present such as fairs, bird shows, or flea markets it is recommended to wait 48 hours before coming into contact with your own birds.
    • If you are not able to wait 48 hours, at least make sure that you, your clothes, and your shoes are clean before handling your flock.
  • Clean cages, feeders, and waterers regularly.

3. Take Precautions with New and Returning Birds

Any new birds or returning birds that have been around other birds/flocks have potentially been exposed to disease. It sometimes takes birds a long time to become sick after being exposed so they may not be showing signs of disease. It is strongly recommended to quarantine new and returning birds at least 30 days to reduce the risk of them bringing diseases into your flock.

  • It is strongly recommended to quarantine any new birds or birds coming home from travelling (like to a show or fair) from the rest of your flock for at least 30 days.
    • Quarantine involves a completely separate environment with no direct contact between birds. Birds separated by a single fence can still spread disease, so this would not be appropriate for quarantine.
  • Visit your healthy, unexposed birds in your flock first before visiting any quarantined birds. This is so that you do not carry any disease agents from the quarantined birds to the rest of your flock.
    • Be sure to change into clean clothes, wear clean shoes/shoe covers, and wash your hands after visiting your quarantined birds.
  • Do not treat healthy quarantined birds with medications while they are under quarantine. Giving medications to these birds can mask the signs of disease but not stop the birds from spreading disease. So, you might mistake these birds for being healthy and introduce them into your flock.
    • It is strongly recommended to be working with a veterinarianbefore you give your birds any medications. Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.

4. Don’t Borrow Disease from Your Neighbor

Do not expose your flock to your neighbors’ birds or equipment that comes into contact with their birds. This will help reduce the risk of your flock being exposed to diseases.

  • Do not share lawn and garden equipment, poultry cages, or other poultry supplies with other bird owners.
    • If this cannot be avoided, clean and disinfect equipment before bringing them to your flock. Also, remember to clean and disinfect borrowed equipment before returning them to your neighbor.
  • Never share wooden, cardboard, or other porous items because they cannot be cleaned and disinfected well enough to kill disease agents.

5. Prevent Germs from Getting a Free Ride

Disease agents can be carried to/from your flock through vehicles, especially tires. If you travel to a location where other birds are present, or even to the feed store, disinfect tires before you return to your property. It may be easiest to go through a car wash.

6. Keep Sick Birds Separate

If any birds in your flock appear sick, remove them from the flock and isolate them to reduce the chance of disease spreading to the rest of the flock.

  • If any of your birds show signs of disease or are clearly sick, isolate them from the rest of your flock. Clean and disinfect any poultry supplies or flock equipment after use with sick birds.
  • Visit your healthy flock first before working with your isolated sick birds. If your birds are separated by age, care for the youngest birds first, when possible.
    • Once you have cared for your sick birds, wash up, clean your shoes/change shoe covers, and put on clean clothes while trying to avoid contaminating your home environment as best as you can.
  • Again, you should always see a veterinarian who sees poultry before treating sick birds! Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.

Make these practices part of your routine because biosecurity is an investment in the health of your birds, your family, and your community.

Early detection can help prevent the spread of disease. Knowing the signs to look for and monitoring the health of your birds on a regular basis is very important. Some signs to look for include nasal discharge, unusually quiet birds, decreased food and water consumption, drop in egg production, and increased/unusual death loss in your flock.

All persons practicing veterinary medicine in North Carolina shall report the following diseases and conditions to the State Veterinarian’s office by telephone within two hours after the disease is reasonably suspected to exist.


NC State Extension Poultry Webpage 

NCDA & CS Veterinary Division Avian Influenza Webpage

NCDA & CS Reportable Diseases