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Press Releases

February 23, 2024
VDACS Encourages Backyard Bird Owners to Practice Biosecurity Measures to Protect Flocks From HPAI
Contact: Michael Wallace

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) encourages all backyard bird owners in the state to protect their flocks from Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Since the current outbreak began in January 2022, almost every U.S. state has a reported HPAI detection in either a backyard or commercial flock.

“All poultry owners should maintain the highest level of biosecurity as wild bird migrations along the Atlantic Flyway and recent HPAI detections in neighboring states confirm that HPAI remains present in our environment,” said Dr. Charles Broaddus, State Veterinarian, VDACS. “Practicing biosecurity measures reduces the risk of people, animals and equipment carrying infectious diseases to your flock, and you are also protecting other flocks by limiting the spread of disease.”

HPAI is a highly contagious airborne respiratory virus that spreads quickly among birds through nasal and eye secretions and manure. The virus can be spread through interaction between wild birds and domestic birds, flock to flock, equipment, vehicles, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers. This virus affects poultry, like chickens, ducks, turkeys, and wild bird species such as ducks, geese, shorebirds, and raptors. Vist the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service maintains a list of all HPAI detections in commercial and backyard flocks.

Signs of HPAI include sudden death without clinical signs; lack of energy or appetite; decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, hocks; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; incoordination; and diarrhea.

Anyone involved with poultry production from the small backyard flock to the large commercial producer should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds.

The following are a few steps backyard bird owners can take to protect their flocks:

  • Prevent contact between domestic and wild birds. Ensure poultry cannot access areas where wild waterfowl or vultures are present.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling birds as well as when moving between different coops.
  • Disinfect boots and other gear when moving between coops.
  • Do not share equipment or other supplies between coops or other farms.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and other supplies between uses. If it cannot be disinfected, discard it.
  • Use well or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
  • Keep poultry feed secure to ensure there is no contact between the feed/feed ingredients and wild birds or rodents.
  • Look for signs of illness. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases.
  • Report sick birds immediately. If your birds are sick or dying, call a local veterinarian, cooperative extensive service, the State Veterinarian’s Office at 804.692.0601 or at vastatevet@vdacs.virginia.gov, or the USDA’s toll-free number, 866.536.7593.

Biosecurity information and resources are available here www.vdacs.virginia.gov/animals-avian-influenza.shtml and www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/dtf-resources/dtf-resources. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to the general public from HPAI infections to be low. The proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI.

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