Responding to the Avian Influenza Outbreak

The current avian influenza outbreak is not thought to pose a risk to human health or to food safety but it is highly toxic to birds, including backyard poultry flocks.  As of April 2, 2022 the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) announced a confirmed case of the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPIA) in a backyard flock in Rock County.

What is the risk to humans? Public health officials do not consider the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza that is circulating in poultry to be a risk to human health.  As always, follow these food safety steps to keep you and your family foodsafe:

  • Wash hands after touching any wild or domesticated poultry
  • Wash hands after touching raw poultry or raw eggs
  • Cook eggs and poultry to 165°F
  • Keep raw eggs and poultry in the refrigerator (40°F or below) and handle leftovers safely
  • Separate raw poultry and cracked eggs from ready to eat foods like salads or fully cooked meats

Consumers will have noticed a rapid rise in egg and poultry prices as flocks are culled to prevent spread of the disease. As a precaution, consumers should not consume birds or eggs from infected flocks.

How should consumers respond? One way in which all consumers can help prevent the spread of the disease is to avoid attracting wild birds to your residence. Temporarily remove all bird feeders and clean up spilled feed that will attract wild birds to the area.

What do you if you have a backyard flock? Nationwide, more than 22.8 million birds have had to be put to death in the past two months because of the influenza Type A virus. The disease is reported in 118 flocks, including 46 backyards and 72 commercial flocks in 24 states.

Map of U.S. states with avian influenza cases (April 2 2022)

HPAI viruses are a form of avian influenza that has been found to be highly contagious and often fatal to domestic poultry. It can be spread by contact with infected birds, equipment, or clothing worn by those working with the animals.

What is avian influenza?  Avian influenza is a disease that affects domestic poultry especially

  • Chickens
  • Turkeys
  • Pheasants
  • Quail
  • Ducks
  • Geese

The highly pathogenic strain that is currently circulating is extremely fatal to domesticated chickens and turkeys. Waterfowl and shorebirds are natural hosts for the avian influenza virus. Wild birds will shed the virus, often without showing signs of illness.

Signs of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza in infected birds include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Decrease in egg production; soft, misshapen eggs
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose, coughing, sneezing
  • Stumbling or falling down
  • Diarrhea

Preventing disease is the best way to keep your backyard flock healthy.

  • Separate your flock from disease sources including wildlife and wild birds.
  • Cover or enclose any outdoor feeding areas for poultry.
  • Keep your poultry area and equipment clean. Promptly clean up any feed spills.
  • Separate new or returning birds from your flock for at least 30 days.
  • Avoid visiting any ponds or streams, especially with pets.
  • If feasible, consider reducing large puddles and standing water that may be nice resting places for migratory birds.
  • Don’t share equipment between neighbors.
  • Limit access to your backyard flock from visitors. If someone must visit:
    • Ask them about what other bird contact they have recently had.
    • Ask them to wash their hands and wear clean clothes and footwear.

What to do if you suspect the disease in a backyard flock? DATCP encourages poultry owners to register their premises and practice enhanced biosecurity. Producers are encouraged to move their birds indoors when possible to prevent contact with wild birds and their droppings. To report increased mortality or signs of illness among domestic birds, contact DATCP at (608) 224-4872 (business hours) or (800) 943-0003 (after hours and weekends).

Refer to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension for best practices Egg Safety and the Backyard Flock.