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Avian influenza basics for urban and backyard poultry owners

W. Martin, R. Porter Jr., S.L. Noll and C. Cardona

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What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza (AI) is a disease in domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks and geese. Waterfowl and shorebirds are natural hosts for the virus that causes avian influenza and will shed the virus into their environment while often showing no signs of illness. Some types of avian influenza are called highly pathogenic (HPAI) because in contrast to waterfowl, these viruses are rapidly fatal for poultry. In chickens, the clinical signs of highly pathogenic (HPAI) are often a combination of respiratory (gasping) and digestive (extreme diarrhea) signs followed by rapid death. There may have swelling around the head, neck, and eyes as well as purple discoloration around the head and legs. In contrast, other poultry species, including turkeys, may have nervous symptoms such as tremors, twisted necks, paralyzed wings and recumbent pedaling. What is common among all poultry (except ducks and geese) is the sudden onset and high rate of mortality.

Since December 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported confirmed cases of HPAI, primarily of the H5N2 subtype, in wild waterfowl and backyard poultry in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho; and commercial poultry flocks in California, Minnesota and Missouri, and Arkansas (updates available). The risk to the public is very low and there is no food safety concern because infected birds do not reach the market. The risk of infection is generally limited to people in direct contact with affected birds. As a reminder, poultry and eggs should always be handled properly and cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Do not eat birds that appear to be sick or have died for reasons unknown. More food safety information.

What to do if you suspect your poultry may have highly pathogenic avian influenza

Each state has a designated agency to respond to avian influenza cases. In Minnesota, the Board of Animal Health is that agency. If your flock experiences a sudden, high mortality or has a high percentage of birds with signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza, please report this immediately to your veterinarian or the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Visit their website, or call the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory (MPTL) at (320) 231-5170. The MPTL cooperates with the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) in St. Paul to conduct and coordinate testing for AI. For more information, contact the VDL at 612- 625-8787 or visit their website.

Biosecurity steps to protect your flock

In order to help flock owners to keep their birds healthy by preventing disease, biosecurity is a must! Introductions of HPAI come from waterfowl (ducks and geese) and gulls that come to Minnesota. Once poultry are infected, they can spread the disease to new flocks. Now is a great time to review your biosecurity. The USDA provides the following tips on preventing AI in your poultry:

Keep your distance (separating your poultry from disease introduction). Some examples are:

Keep it clean (cleaning and disinfecting). Some examples are:

Don't haul disease home. Some examples are:

Don't borrow disease from your neighbors

Additional resources

For more detailed information and resources, please visit the following websites:


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