Domestic Bird Cases of HPAI in NC (since 2022)
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What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza (AI), also known as bird flu or fowl plague, is a disease caused by avian influenza A virus. Avian influenza is divided into two categories based on how severe the illness. These two categories are low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).
While some types of avian influenza cause only mild illness in birds, the virus can mutate into a more dangerous version that could be potentially fatal. It is because of the virus’ ability to mutate quickly that any type of avian influenza is reportable to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Avian influenza can be spread in many ways including through air contaminated with virus (from coughing, sneezing, etc.) and feces. The virus can also be carried to and from flocks on clothing, boots, and equipment.
NCDA&CS has worked with the poultry industry, other state agencies, and federal agencies to prepare for and respond the threat of influenza in poultry. The state’s plan includes education, monitoring, reporting, and response. Testing for influenza is conducted through our NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System.
What about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)?
HPAI is a deadly disease that spreads very quickly and can affect many avian/poultry species including chickens and turkeys. With this threat, the faster we can respond the faster we can stop the virus from spreading. It is critical to keep strict biosecurity measures and watch your flock closely for any signs of the disease. Problems in your flocks should be reported quickly and is vital in protecting the poultry in our state and nation from this deadly disease.
Know the Warning Signs
- Reduced energy, decreased appetite, and/or decreased activity
- Lower egg production and/or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, and wattles
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs
- Difficulty breathing, runny nares (nose), and/or sneezing
- Twisting of the head and neck, stumbling, falling down, tremors, and/or circling
- Greenish diarrhea
If your birds are sick or dying, report it right away. This is one of the most important things you can do to keep HPAI from spreading.
- Your flock or local veterinarian
- NC State Veterinary Office 919-707-3250
- Your local branch of the NC Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System
- Raleigh 919-733-3986
- Elkin 336-526-2499
- Monroe 704-289-6448
- Arden/Fletcher 828-684-8188
- USDA 866-536-7593
After you report, a Federal or State animal health official will contact you to learn more about your flock and operation.
Additional Diagnostic Resources
N.C. Department of Environmental Quality
How to protect your flock
What is biosecurity?
Biosecurity involves the use of husbandry practices that help protect your animals from infectious diseases. Backyard poultry can become sick, suffer, and die by being exposed to unseen disease agents like bacteria, viruses, internal parasites, and certain types of fungi.
Why is biosecurity important?
Certain things in the environment can help disease agents multiply and become more likely to cause disease. These disease agents can hide on equipment, shoes, clothing, hands, in the soil, and even in your hair! By practicing biosecurity, starting with the steps outlined below, you can make the environment safer for your birds.
In addition to protecting your flock, it is important to note that some of these diseases can affect humans. This means that when you are using biosecurity, you are helping to keep your birds, as well as you, your family, friends, and community, healthy and safe.
6 Ways to Prevent Poultry Diseases
There are many husbandry practices you can use to help prevent infectious poultry diseases. Here are some key strategies:
1. Protect Your Flock’s Environment
Keep your flock’s environment isolated from contact with other animals and people.
- Restrict access to your birds from other animals and people. If possible, fence or house them in an area where they will be protected.
- Minimize the number of people who come through your birds’ environment. If other people visit your flock, make sure they have not been around other birds within the previous 48 hours and are appropriately clean with clean clothes and shoes/shoe covers.
- Do not allow your poultry near ponds where they may interact with migrating birds, including ducks and geese.
- Keep your poultry area clutter-free. Clutter can provide a home for unwanted rodents and other pests. Store bird feed in closed varmint-proof containers or away from your flock, as it may attract other animals that could be harboring disease.
2. Keep Things Clean
Contaminated people or items can carry disease agents to your flock and a dirty environment can increase the chances of your flock getting a preventable disease.
- When you are working with or around your birds, wear clean clothes including shoes/boots. Clean shoe covers can help as well if your shoes/boots are used for more than going to see your birds. A long-handled scrub brush and disinfectant can help remove droppings and debris from the bottom of your shoes/boots. Many disease agents can survive better in organic material, including feces and dirt, therefore, clean shoes and boots are critical. Consider having dedicated clothing when caring for your flock.
- If you have been around any other birds or an environment that might have had birds, you should shower and wash your hair before visiting your flock. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your birds and equipment.
- If you attend events where other birds are present such as fairs, bird shows, or flea markets it is recommended to wait 48 hours before coming into contact with your own birds.
- If you are not able to wait 48 hours, at least make sure that you, your clothes, and your shoes are clean before handling your flock.
- Clean cages, feeders, and waterers regularly.
3. Take Precautions with New and Returning Birds
Any new birds or returning birds that have been around other birds/flocks have potentially been exposed to disease. It sometimes takes birds a long time to become sick after being exposed so they may not be showing signs of disease. It is strongly recommended to quarantine new and returning birds at least 30 days to reduce the risk of them bringing diseases into your flock.
- It is strongly recommended to quarantine any new birds or birds coming home from travelling (like to a show or fair) from the rest of your flock for at least 30 days.
- Quarantine involves a completely separate environment with no direct contact between birds. Birds separated by a single fence can still spread disease, so this would not be appropriate for quarantine.
- Visit your healthy, unexposed birds in your flock first before visiting any quarantined birds. This is so that you do not carry any disease agents from the quarantined birds to the rest of your flock.
- Be sure to change into clean clothes, wear clean shoes/shoe covers, and wash your hands after visiting your quarantined birds.
- Do not treat healthy quarantined birds with medications while they are under quarantine. Giving medications to these birds can mask the signs of disease but not stop the birds from spreading disease. So, you might mistake these birds for being healthy and introduce them into your flock.
- It is strongly recommended to be working with a veterinarianbefore you give your birds any medications. Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.
4. Don’t Borrow Disease from Your Neighbor
Do not expose your flock to your neighbors’ birds or equipment that comes into contact with their birds. This will help reduce the risk of your flock being exposed to diseases.
- Do not share lawn and garden equipment, poultry cages, or other poultry supplies with other bird owners.
- If this cannot be avoided, clean and disinfect equipment before bringing them to your flock. Also, remember to clean and disinfect borrowed equipment before returning them to your neighbor.
- Never share wooden, cardboard, or other porous items because they cannot be cleaned and disinfected well enough to kill disease agents.
5. Prevent Germs from Getting a Free Ride
Disease agents can be carried to/from your flock through vehicles, especially tires. If you travel to a location where other birds are present, or even to the feed store, disinfect tires before you return to your property. It may be easiest to go through a car wash.
6. Keep Sick Birds Separate
If any birds in your flock appear sick, remove them from the flock and isolate them to reduce the chance of disease spreading to the rest of the flock.
- If any of your birds show signs of disease or are clearly sick, isolate them from the rest of your flock. Clean and disinfect any poultry supplies or flock equipment after use with sick birds.
- Visit your healthy flock first before working with your isolated sick birds. If your birds are separated by age, care for the youngest birds first, when possible.
- Once you have cared for your sick birds, wash up, clean your shoes/change shoe covers, and put on clean clothes while trying to avoid contaminating your home environment as best as you can.
- Again, you should always see a veterinarian who sees poultry before treating sick birds! Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.
Make these practices part of your routine because biosecurity is an investment in the health of your birds, your family, and your community.
Early detection can help prevent the spread of disease. Knowing the signs to look for and monitoring the health of your birds on a regular basis is very important. Some signs to look for include nasal discharge, unusually quiet birds, decreased food and water consumption, drop in egg production, and increased/unusual death loss in your flock.
All persons practicing veterinary medicine in North Carolina shall report the following diseases and conditions to the State Veterinarian's office by telephone within two hours after the disease is reasonably suspected to exist.
- Defend the Flock: Biosecurity 101
- Producer Information Sheet: Emergency Response Procedures: Cleaning & Disinfection
- Biosecurity Basics for Poultry Producers
- HPAI Biosecurity Checklist
Consumers and Food Safety
The three reasons your food is safe.
- Our food supply is safe. Sick birds are not processed for food.
- The risk to humans is low. No humans have become ill from avian influenza by consuming poultry or poultry products.
- NCDA&CS is actively monitoring for the virus. We are ready to support poultry owners if the virus is detected in our state.
For more information, it is strongly recommended to look at additional resources below, especially the USDA APHIS Questions and Answers: Food Safety and Avian Influenza.
What should I do if I find a dead bird?
Birds die from many causes, so there typically is no cause for alarm. If you find significant numbers of dead birds, you should report the finding to either NCDA&CS or NC Wildlife Resources Commission.
NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Veterinary Division
(919)-707-2350 option #2
NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., or email HWI@ncwildlife.org, or call USDA at 866-536-7593.
Am I at risk?
The risk of catching Avian Influenza from a wild bird is extremely low. However, birds may be infected with other pathogens/bugs that can cause human illness without the birds showing signs of being sick themselves (i.e. Salmonella and Campylobacter). CDC recommendations.
Do I have to worry about pets eating or bringing dead birds into the house?
Preventing pets from eating wild bird or other animal carcasses or carrying them around is important. The deaths could have been caused by poisoning or a severe bacterial infection.
US Fish and Wildlife Services
Information for Hunters, Bird Watchers, and Backyard Naturalists About Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (includes handling and cleaning guidance)
10 Tips to Keep Your Birds Safe from Avian Flu
- Keep chickens, turkeys, quail, guineas and other poultry separately from ducks. Ducks are known reservoirs for HPAI virus and can carry the virus without signs of illness.
- The HPAI virus lives for a long time in cool, moist conditions, so eliminate standing water (which might attract wild birds and waterfowl) in your flock’s pen. Also, make certain your birds do not have access to other water sources that might be visited by wild waterfowl: ponds, streams, lakes. Commingling of domestic poultry with any wild waterfowl creates a real possibility for the spread of HPAI virus.
- Place a cover over your flock’s pen, if possible, to prevent introduction of wild waterfowl droppings into the area your flock inhabits. The droppings of infected waterfowl have very high levels of infectious HPAI virus.
- Feed and water your birds in a protected area to prevent attracting any wild birds. The virus infects many species of birds and can be spread to your poultry through contact with birds carrying the virus on their feet or feathers, though they may not be infected.
- Wear shoe covers or clean boots each time you enter your birds’ pen. This will prevent tracking HPAI virus into the birds’ pen if it is present on your grounds.
- Keep feeders and waterers clean and sanitized often. Wild birds infected with HPAI virus that drink or eat from your flock’s equipment can spread the virus to your flock.
- Do not share equipment with other flocks. If you must share equipment, be certain it is cleaned and disinfected before moving from one premises to another.
- If you purchase new birds, buy only from a reputable NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) dealer. Keep the newly purchased birds separate from your existing flock for at least 3 weeks to rule out any infection that might be present, but not showing signs of illness when the birds were initially purchased.
- Watch your flock closely and know the signs of illness. Poultry infected with HPAI can have various signs of illness: lack of energy and appetite, reluctance to move, decreased egg production, soft or misshapen eggs, discolored comb and wattles, lack of coordination, diarrhea or sudden death. Susceptible birds may die without showing any signs of illness. In a HPAI-infected flock many birds will die within a short time.
- If your flock suddenly becomes depressed and begins dying, please contact NCDA&CS, your cooperative extension office, your local veterinarian or USDA APHIS and report these deaths immediately. You can reach NCDA&CS Veterinary Division at 919-707-3250, or USDA APHIS at 1-866-536-7593.
The Centers for Disease Control says that avian influenza poses a low risk in humans. However, working directly with poultry increases your risk of exposure to the virus.
All commercial poultry premises that raise 100,000 or more broilers annually for meat, raise 30,000 turkeys or more annually for meat, have 75,000 or more table egg layers, raise 25,000 or more ‘for release’ upland game birds annually, and/or raise 25,000 or more waterfowl birds annually must follow the NPIP Program Standards for Biosecurity Audits to be eligible for indemnity or compensation by the USDA. Biosecurity plans are audited by the NC NPIP Official State Agent at least once every two years. If a commercial farm is operating under a commercial integrator’s biosecurity program, they should be following the approved plan consistently.
- Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Response Plan: The Red Book
- Producer Information Sheet: Emergency Response Procedures: Cleaning & Disinfection
- Producer Information Sheet: Emergency Response Procedures: Depopulation & Disposal
- Producer Information Sheet: USDA Avian Influenza Response - Mass Depopulation and Carcass Disposal
- Producer Information Sheet: Emergency Response Procedures: Appraisal and Indemnity
- Producer Information Sheet: Questions and Answers - Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
N.C. Department of Environmental Quality
There are no bans on poultry shows and public sales at this time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I put away bird feeders and bird baths because of High Path Avian Influenza?
The NCDA & CS Veterinary Division has been working in collaboration with our partners at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission regarding wild birds in NC with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. The use of wild bird feeders has been an increasing public concern due to our current outbreak of HPAI in commercial poultry.
Surveillance of wild birds in NC confirmed the presence of HPAI in our state on January 16, 2022. Waterfowl often carry the disease without showing any signs of illness. Other types of birds, including commercial and backyard poultry, can have severe illness often leading to death. It is unclear how the virus impacts songbirds or the role songbirds might play in virus transmission. During this disease incident, there have been no cases of songbirds testing positive for HPAI and no reported deaths of wild birds at NC bird feeders.
Wild birds will gather where food and water isare available. If you own poultry, we do not recommend having bird feeders/baths. If you don’t own poultry, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission recommends you clean your bird seed feeders and bird baths a minimum of every two weeks with a dilute bleach solution (no more than 1-part bleach to 9-parts water) before rinsing and allowing it to air dry completely before refilling. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned similarly when the nectar is changed, at least twice per week. If you do find wild birds dead near a bird feeder, please report it to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401 or HWI@ncwildlife.org.
My ducks and chickens, turkeys and guineas live together and all seem healthy. Do I need to separate them?
It is a good idea to keep all waterfowl separate from your chickens, guineas and turkeys. Waterfowl are known carriers of the influenza virus and may appear perfectly healthy, while being able to infect your flock.
My flock lives outside except when they enter their coop for the night. Should I keep them inside all the time?
Moving flocks inside will provide further protection because they have less chance of coming in contact with wild waterfowl. If you cannot keep them in housing, be sure to avoid anything that might attract other birds, such as feeding them in the open or spilled feed..
How could wild waterfowl give the disease to my flock?
Wild waterfowl typically shed the virus through their droppings. The virus lives well in cool, moist places, so access to ponds and streams can be dangerous for your flock. It is best to keep your flock confined so that they cannot access areas where waterfowl gather.