If you are an avid follower of livestock or poultry news, you've probably been bombarded recently with all sorts of things related to avian influenza.  So, being people with interest in poultry, I imagine you have already heard about the H5N2 variant of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (aka HPAI aka bird flu) that has been affecting both commercial and backyard flocks all over the Upper Midwest.  Two pieces of good news: 1) the virus has not been transmitted to people or entered the food supply, and 2) it has not been discovered or confirmed in Illinois.

 That said, avian influenza does represent a significant threat to all poultry flocks in Illinois.  If contracted, the disease can lead to 90-100% mortality within the space of a couple days.  As such, it is time to get yourself informed about the disease, the preventive steps you can take to minimize the risk to your flocks, and what to do if you suspect HPAI in your flock. 

Some things to know:

Avian Influenza (AI), also known as Bird Flu, is a group of viruses that affects both domestic and wild birds. Some signs of AI include:

  • Sudden death
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production
  • Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the comb, wattles, and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Lack or coordination
  • Diarrhea

AI can be spread directly by healthy birds coming into contact with infected birds, and indirectly by birds coming in contact with manure, equipment, vehicles, and people whose clothing or footwear have come into contact with the virus. Implementing a sound can help reduce the chance of introducing bird flu into your flock. Consider the following:

  1. Restrict access where your birds are kept. Limit access to only those caring for the birds. Visitors, especially other bird owners, should not be around your birds.
  2. Wild birds should not have contact with your flock.
  3. Before entering your bird area, put on clean clothes, disinfect your footwear, and wash your hands.
  4. Clean cages and equipment regularly.
  5. Isolate sick birds, and dispose of dead birds quickly and properly.
  6. If your birds have been around other birds, for example, at a fair, isolate them from the rest of the flock for two weeks. Watch for signs of sickness before allowing them to rejoin the flock.
  7. If you purchase new birds, isolate them from the flock for 30 days.
  8. Do not borrow equipment, tools, or poultry supplies from other bird owners. If you must borrow equipment, including cages and crates, be sure to clean, wash, and dry thoroughly.
  9. If your birds become sick or if you have sudden death losses, report it to your veterinarian or extension office. Also, contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) when you have an outbreak. The toll-free number is (866) 536-7593. Reporting possible cases of AI can help stop the spread of the disease.

Today, Avian Influenza remains largely a threat to birds. In Asia, people with extensive direct contact with infected birds have become infected with a strain of the virus, and some have died. A great concern is the potential for the virus to mutate, resulting in a virus that could be passed from person to person. It is important for bird owners to do all they can to fight AI.