Avian Flu: What Is It?

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I’m sure you have heard talk or concern about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), sometimes called the avian flu or bird flu. So what is it exactly? HPAI is a virus that is carried by free-flying waterfowl like ducks, geese, and shorebirds. Chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks and geese, and guineas can become infected through transmission of the virus from saliva, feces, and nasal secretions. It is highly pathogenic, and infected flocks have extremely high mortality rates.

North Carolina is currently free from HPAI, but fall migratory waterfowl are a major threat to introduce the virus. The horizontal spread of the virus from infected premises is the next major concern. Birds will migrate through N.C. during September and October. There is a high probability that ducks (which can have the virus and appear healthy) and other birds that migrate will be positive for HPAI. It is also important to note that swine can also be carriers of the virus and, like ducks, experience or show little to no symptoms.

            What can you do to protect your birds? Eliminate your birds from commingling or coming in contact with wild birds, which are carriers of the HPAI virus. Keep your birds away from surface waters, ponds, lakes, wetlands, etc. Surface waters can be contaminated and, depending on temperatures, the virus can survive for a period of time in the water. Decrease the movement of vehicles, rodents, pests, people, equipment, and feed on your farm. These can be vectors in transmitting the virus and other diseases.

Good news is the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) has been on the frontline to help minimize the risk and combat the HPAI virus if introduced. Unlike the Midwestern states, which were caught by surprise, the NCDA has had time to meet with emergency personnel and implement plans to be proactive against the virus. As of August 15, 2015, until January 15, 2016, all bird shows and sales have been cancelled. State and county fairs have also cancelled poultry shows. NCDA is asking all poultry owners, regardless of the number of birds, to register for an NCFarmID number. This will help the department alert poultry owners about an outbreak, especially owners in close proximity to a positive farm. Commercial growers, those with 200 or more birds and under contract with an integrated company, are required to submit a completed HPAI outbreak plan to the Veterinary Division no later than September 15, 2015. This outbreak plan addresses how they would respond to a confirmed positive.

There will be a series of informational meetings about HPAI for backyard poultry owners across the state in September. North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Duplin County Center, will host one of the meetings on September 8, 2015. For more information on HPAI or these meetings, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at taylor_chavis@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at http://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/. North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.