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How to monitor flocks and report suspected avian influenza

Poultry flock owners should be on the lookout for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), an extremely infectious strain of an influenza type A virus that is often fatal to birds and can spread quickly between flocks. It can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks and geese, guinea fowl, and wild birds, especially waterfowl.

Begin with biosecurity

While HPAI is mainly transmitted from wild birds to commercial flocks, it is likely spread in other ways as well. USDA recommends producers immediately implement biosecurity measures to minimize the chance of the virus entering their poultry houses.

According to the USDA, producers need to carefully examine protocols surrounding personnel who enter poultry buildings, shared equipment and crews, disposal of dead birds, and manure management. It recommends implementing a line of separation for each building and a perimeter buffer area. 

Basic biosecurity measures include keeping visitors to a minimum, washing hands before and after coming in contact with birds, using disposable boot covers or disinfectant foot baths, changing clothes before entering and exiting poultry facilities, and cleaning and disinfecting tools and equipment before moving them to a new facility.

Monitor and report

Producers should regularly monitor their flocks for the warning signs of HPAI, including:

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths
  • Sneezing, gasping, coughing, and nasal discharge
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or soft, thin-shelled, or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs
  • Stumbling or falling down

If HPAI is suspected, producers should immediately report sick or unusual dead birds to a local or state veterinarian, the state animal health laboratory, or the USDA (call 1-866-536-7593).

A federal or state animal health official will contact producers who file a report, and will arrange to come to the farm and take samples from live birds, dead birds, and the barn. Samples are taken to the nearest diagnostic laboratory, and initial results will be provided within 24 hours. Until the results are in, the operation is quarantined. Only authorized workers will be allowed in and out of facilities, and the movement of poultry and poultry products will be limited.

USDA will also work with producers to inventory their poultry in order to appraise the flock and value depopulated birds. Producers with a biosecurity plan in place prior to detection may be eligible for indemnity payments to cover the loss of birds and cleanup.

If HPAI is found

If testing confirms avian influenza, the producer will be contacted by a veterinary medical officer, and USDA will provide caseworker assistance for going through the next steps, including depopulating the flock within 24 hours, working to determine how HPAI may have entered the facility, and checking with neighboring farms for possible spread. The caseworker will also help determine the best method for disposing of carcasses, depending on the size of the flock, local conditions, and laws and regulations.

To clean affected buildings, all organic material will need to be removed. All items inside must be washed with detergent, rinsed, and allowed to dry. A disinfectant is then applied, and later surfaces are again rinsed and allowed to air dry. The building must remain empty for a minimum of 21 days, or until an APHIS official releases it from quarantine.

Learn more at the USDA APHIS Defend the Flock Program website.

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