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What do I need to know about Avian Flu?

What is Avian Influenza?

Just like humans, birds can get the flu. “Avian influenza,” “avian flu” or simply “bird flu” is a disease that affects birds, including poultry like chickens, turkeys and ducks. It is caused by a virus that is passed from bird to bird through their saliva, nasal secretions and/or feces. Other susceptible birds pick up the virus by directly touching the infected bird’s fluids or by touching a surface that has been contaminated by the fluids. There are two classifications of bird flu – low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Birds who contract LPAI sometimes do not exhibit any symptoms or show mild ones, like ruffled feathers or a decrease in egg production. Birds with HPAI exhibit more severe symptoms such as lack of energy or appetite, lack of coordination, coughing, sneezing or nasal secretions.  HPAI may also cause high morality.

Can people catch avian influenza?

The risk of humans contracting avian flu is very low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Scientists say bird flu is not easily transmitted from birds to humans.

What is the status of HPAI incidents in the United States?

There are currently no reported cases of HPAI in commercial chicken flocks in the United States

What are chicken producers doing to prevent avian influenza?

Avian flu is a serious issue that chicken farmers closely monitor together with the USDA. The U.S. has the most robust monitoring and surveillance program in the world – and detailed plans in place to minimize spread among flocks and eliminate the virus completely. All U.S. flocks are tested prior to processing for avian influenza.  If a single bird in a flock were to test positive for HPAI, then none of those birds would be allowed to enter the food supply.

Collectively, farmers, the USDA, and the poultry industry continue to monitor for the virus closely and have intense surveillance and comprehensive biosecurity measures to keep flocks protected.   Strict biosecurity practices on the farm are key to preventing chickens from contracting avian influenza.

The following biosecurity measures are the most important to prevent disease spread and promote flock health:

  • Limiting visitors on the farm and minimizing foot traffic;
  • Avoiding contact with wild and domestic fowl;
  • Avoiding the sharing of farm equipment;
  • Having a clean and functioning footbath at each entrance to the broiler house;
  • Ensuring that all visitors or personnel have disinfected or new footwear before entering a house or facility;
  • Making sure feed and water sources are covered and free of contaminants, limiting the attraction of wild fowl and pests;
  • Having official signage clearly stating the farm is a biosecure zone and any unauthorized entry is strictly prohibited;
  • Employing effective pest and wild bird management practices; and
  • Adequately training farmers, farm and company personnel in biosecurity and disease prevention.

See biosecurity practices in action and learn how farmers monitor the health of the chicken flock.

What happens if there is an outbreak of avian Influenza on a chicken farm?

In the event of an outbreak, the poultry industry has strict procedures and works directly with  state and federal governments to identify and eliminate the problem and reduce the spread of the disease.

When avian flu is detected, the following five-step response plan is carried out:

Quarantine

First, the farmer ensures that the affected flock stays on the farm, along with any equipment that has been near the birds.

 

Eradicate

The affected flock is then quickly and humanely euthanized.

 

Monitor region

At the same time, both wild and domestic birds in a defined surrounding “control” area are tested and monitored for avian influenza.

Disinfect

The farm where the flock was housed is then thoroughly disinfected to ensure all of the virus is killed.

Test

Last, the entire poultry farm is carefully tested for 21 days to confirm it is free of avian influenza before allowing a new flock of birds to arrive.

 

No chicken from avian flu-affected flocks are ever allowed to enter the food chain.

What can I do at home to make sure my chicken is safe from avian influenza?

Avian flu is not a foodborne illness, which means you cannot contract it from eating poultry that has been cooked properly. And in the event a chicken flock does test positive, it will not enter the food chain.

But as always, you should follow proper handling and cooking when preparing raw chicken. Get safe food handling tips at Chicken Roost.

For more information on avian influenza, visit the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s webpage.