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Avian influenza (AI) is a virus that affects bird populations. AI viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds.
Migratory waterfowl have proved to be the natural reservoir for this disease. There are many different strains of avian influenza that cause varying degrees of illness in birds. The most common types of avian influenza are routinely detected in wild birds and cause little concern.
Highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza are of greater concern because they are easily spread among birds and are typically deadly to domesticated poultry.
There are currently no confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the state of Louisiana. Confirmed HPAI cases in the U.S. for 2022 can be found at USDA APHIS | 2022 Confirmations of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Commercial and Backyard Flocks.
Avian influenza does not present a food safety risk; poultry and eggs are safe to eat when handled and cooked properly. There is no risk to the food supply, but birds from the flock will not enter the food system. No human cases of avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States.
REPORTING SUSPECTED AI
If domestic poultry or other farm birds exhibit signs of avian influenza, bird owners should consult their local veterinary professional and notify state or federal animal health officials.
Birds infected with the HPAI virus may show one or more of the following signs:
- Sudden death without clinical signs;
- Lack of energy and appetite;
- Significant decrease in water consumption
- Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs;
- Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks;
- Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs;
- Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing;
- Incoordination; or
Nationally, sick or dead farm birds can be reported to USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593, or in Louisiana, contact the LDAF Diagnostic Lab at (318) 927-3441.
HOW IS THE VIRUS SPREAD IN BIRDS?
Avian influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds and through indirect contact with contaminated equipment and materials. The virus is excreted through the feces of infected birds and through secretions from the nose, mouth, and eyes.
Contact with infected fecal material is the most common of bird–to–bird transmission. Wild ducks often introduce AI into domestic flocks raised on the range or in open flight pens through fecal contamination. Within a poultry house, transfer of the HPAI virus between birds also can occur via airborne secretions. The spread of AI between poultry premises almost always follows the movement of contaminated people and equipment. Avian influenza also can be found on the outer surfaces of eggshells. The transfer of eggs is a potential means of transmission. Airborne transmission of the virus from farm to farm is highly unlikely under usual circumstances.
Biosecurity refers to everything people do to keep diseases – and the viruses, bacteria, funguses, parasites, and other microorganisms that cause diseases – away from birds, property, and people. Biosecurity measures can include keeping visitors to a minimum, changing clothes before entering poultry areas, cleaning tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility, and more.
Anyone involved with poultry production, from a small backyard to a large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to ensure the health of their birds. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and a toolkit available as part of its Defend The Flock program.
Confirmed HPAI cases in the U.S. for 2022 can be found at USDA APHIS | 2022 Confirmations of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Commercial and Backyard Flocks.
The CDC reports that “as a general precaution, people should avoid wild birds and observe them only from a distance; avoid contact with domestic birds (poultry) that appear ill or have died, and avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.”
The CDC also says, “It is rare for people to get infected with bird flu viruses, but it can happen. Bird flu viruses can infect people when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth or is inhaled. This might happen when the virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has the virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose.” Please consult CDC guidance for further information.
Again, there is no evidence that any human cases of avian influenza have ever been acquired by eating properly cooked poultry products. The egg and poultry supplies are safe. All shipments of poultry and eggs are tested to ensure the absence of avian influenza (AI) before moving into the food supply. Always cook poultry products to 165 degrees.
Health care providers evaluating patients with possible HPAI H5 infection should notify their local or state health departments, which should notify the CDC. CDC is providing case-by-case guidance at this time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that the risk of transmission to humans is low. The strains of HPAI that are currently circulating in North America have no history of causing human illness.
For more information, visit the CDC website at: www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/