Frequently Asked Questions
What is avian influenza (AI)?
Avian influenza is a disease caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally among wild aquatic birds (such as ducks, gulls, and shorebirds) worldwide and can infect domestic poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, quail, and geese) through their mucous, saliva, or feces.
Influenza A viruses have many different subtypes and are named for the two types of proteins on the virus surface. These proteins are referred to as “H” and “N” and are designated with numbers, such as H5N1. Strains that are referred to as “highly pathogenic” are more deadly to domestic poultry.
WHAT TYPES OF BIRDS CAN BE SICK WITH AI?
Wild birds that can be infected with bird flu viruses include waterfowl, like ducks, geese and swans, and birds of prey. Bird flu can spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys. While most wild birds can be infected with bird flu viruses without being sick, poultry, like chickens and turkeys, can get very sick and die from certain bird flu viruses.
WHAT IS HIGHLY PATHOGENIC AVIAN INFLUENZA (HPAI)?
AI viruses are divided into two groups—highly pathogenic (HPAI) and low pathogenic (LPAI)—based on the ability of the virus to produce disease and the severity of illness it can cause.
- HPAI spreads rapidly and has a high death rate in birds. HPAI is an extremely infectious and fatal form of AI that typically kills 95–100 percent of an infected flock. Since December 2021, there have been several ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 incidents along the Atlantic, Pacific, Central, and Mississippi Flyways.
- LPAI causes only minor illness in domestic poultry and occurs naturally in migratory waterfowl. The concern is that some LPAI virus strains are capable of mutating into HPAI viruses.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF AI IN BIRDS?
Possible signs in poultry include sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, nasal discharge, twisted neck, and swollen sinuses, along with decreased feed and water intake, dehydration, decreased egg production, misshapen eggs, decreased fertility or hatchability, depression, huddling, diarrhea, lethargy, and an increase in mortality. HPAI viruses usually cause severe illness in chickens and turkeys, with few birds within an infected flock surviving.
Most wild birds that are infected with avian influenza viruses do not show signs of disease. However, HPAI strains can occasionally cause disease in some wildlife species including swans, diving ducks, gulls, geese, grebes, raptors, vultures, cranes, and terns. In these birds, typical symptoms include swimming in circles, head tilt, and lack of coordination. Game bird species such as turkeys, grouse, and quail may also be susceptible to HPAI with signs more like poultry such as swelling of the head, diarrhea, vomiting, moving slowly, ruffled feathers, respiratory signs, and not eating. Some affected wild birds are found dead.
HOW IS AI TRANSMITTED?
AI viruses are shed in the feces and respiratory secretions of birds. The fecal-oral and respiratory transmission routes can rapidly spread the virus throughout a poultry flock. Clothes, shoes, shared equipment, and vehicles can pick up the virus from the environment and so are also transmission routes. Walking through fecal material just before
entering the poultry house must be considered as a possible transmission route. It is critical to disinfect footwear before entering the poultry house or wear disposable footwear covers. Also, clean/sanitize hands before entering poultry houses.
HOW CAN AI BE PREVENTED?
The most important thing that can be done to prevent AI in a domestic poultry flock is
consistently practicing a strong biosecurity program, preventing contact between your birds and wild birds (particularly waterfowl), and immediately reporting sick or dying birds to proper officials.
WHAT IS BIOSECURITY?
Biosecurity means doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease, such as avian influenza (AI), being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles. It also means doing everything you can to reduce the chance of disease leaving your farm.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends the following six simple steps to help you keep your birds healthy:
- Keep visitors to a minimum. Only allow people who take care of your poultry to encounter your birds.
- Keep it clean. Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning hands (frequently; most important), shoes, tools, vehicles, cages, and equipment. Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) and/or disinfectant footbaths. Clean and disinfect tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility.
- Change clothes before entering poultry areas and before exiting the property.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor. Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors.
- Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases. Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease.
- Report sick birds. Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths. Call the MBAH at 1-888-722-3106 or the USDA at 1-866-563-7593.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE Information ON BIRDS AND AI?
HOW CAN I REPORT SICK OR DEAD BIRDS?
An occasional dead bird is a normal, natural occurrence in either wild or domesticated flocks. Trauma is the most common cause of mortality in wild birds and some flocking birds can be killed in surprising numbers by certain types of traumas. Normally, the finding of fewer than 5 dead birds in one location that are not sentinel species (such as blue jays and crows) or raptors does not warrant an investigation. A single dead bird will be tested only if it is a species of special interest (such as vultures, eagles, raptors).
Domesticated Poultry (chickens, turkeys, quail, pheasants, ducks, geese):
- Death of individual birds: Owners of backyard poultry flocks should NOT report individual bird deaths to any public entity. Consultation with a local veterinarian is recommended. Diagnostic services (fee for service) are available through the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory System (601-420-4700).
- Sudden onset of multiple deaths in commercial poultry consistent with avian influenza, Newcastle disease, or other reportable poultry diseases should be reported immediately to the MBAH at 601-359-1170 or 888-722-3106.
- Sudden onset of multiple deaths in backyard poultry: Owners of poultry flocks experiencing higher than normal levels of mortality are again advised to consult a local veterinarian. Any veterinarian with a high degree of suspicion for avian influenza, Newcastle disease, or other diseases of agricultural or public health importance is advised to report the suspected disease to the Mississippi Board of Animal Health by filling out this Online Report Form at https://agnet.mdac.ms.gov/MBAHReportableDiseases/publicreportingform
Pet Birds (parrots, parakeets, canaries, etc.):
Contact your local veterinarian for both individual and multiple bird deaths. Any veterinarian with a high degree of suspicion of psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittaci) or other diseases of agricultural or public health importance is advised to report the suspected disease to the MBAH (888-722-3106).
Wild Waterfowl and Shorebirds, Eagles, and Raptors (hawks, falcons, vultures, owls, and osprey): (5 or more dead in one place)
- US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services: 662-325-3014
- Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP): MDWFP requests that raptors be submitted only if unusual die-offs occur. If an unusual number of dead raptors start appearing, call 601-432-2199.
- Mississippi Board of Animal Health Online Report Form at https://agnet.mdac.ms.gov/MBAHReportableDiseases/publicreportingform
HOW DO I COLLECT, REMOVE, AND STORE DEAD BIRDS?
- Dead birds should not be handled with bare hands. Maintain a physical barrier.
- To collect or remove dead birds from the environment:
- Pick up the bird with doubled plastic bags that have been turned inside out.
- Then, invert and seal the doubled plastic bag with the bird inside.
- To dispose of the bird:
- Place the bag in household garbage.
- As an alternative, bury the dead bird (without being bagged) by handling the bird with a shovel.
- To store a dead bird prior to delivery for testing:
- Bag and place the bird on ice or keep it cool until the bird can be refrigerated. Birds should not be frozen before testing.
- Use clear plastic bags if possible so that the bird can be seen through the bags.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
CAN AI AFFECT HUMANS?
Avian flu viruses do not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with avian flu viruses have occurred. The current strain (highly pathogenic H5N1) in the U.S. that has been killing turkeys, chickens, and raptors has been detected in only two humans, one in the United Kingdom in 2021 and one in the United States in 2022. For up-to-date information on current human cases, go to this web page Current U.S. Bird Flu Situation in Humans | Avian Influenza (Flu) (cdc.gov).
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE HAD CONTACT WITH AN INFECTED BIRD?
It is important to watch for symptoms and follow your local or state health department’s instructions even if your contact was short and you took safety measures. Report any symptoms to your healthcare provider and state or local health department right away.
During the 10 days after your last exposure, you should watch for these symptoms:
- Fever (Temperature of 100°F [37.8°C] or greater)
- Feeling feverish/Chills*
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing/Shortness of breath
- Eye tearing, redness, or irritation
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
*Fever may not always be present
If you get sick after being exposed to sick or potentially infected birds, a health care provider may write you a prescription for an antiviral drug to treat your illness. It’s important to take the medication as directed as soon as possible.
WHAT SHOULD HUNTERS KNOW ABOUT AI?
If you are a hunter who had close contact with potentially infected wild birds:
Wild birds can carry bird flu without appearing sick. As a general precaution, people should not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead. Hunters who handle wild birds should dress game birds in the field when possible and practice good biosecurity to prevent any potential disease spread. If possible, wear gloves when dressing birds, and wash hands with soap and water afterwards. USDA has more information available on preventive actions for hunters:
If you had close contact with obviously sick or dead wild birds, or surfaces contaminated by them, contact your state or local health department. In the meantime, watch for the symptoms listed above. If you develop symptoms, contact your state or local health department.
WHAT SHOULD BACKYARD OR OTHER HOBBY FLOCK OWNERS KNOW ABOUT AI?
If you had close contact with infected backyard poultry or other hobbyist flocks:
poultry are likely to appear sick when they are infected with bird flu. If you had close contact with obviously sick or dead poultry, or surfaces contaminated by them, contact your state or local health department. In the meantime, watch for the symptoms listed above. USDA also has information available on preventive actions for bird owners: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/card-defend-the-flock.pdf
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION ON BIRDS AND AI?
WHAT IS THE INDUSTRY AND GOVERNMENT DOING TO PROTECT THE FOOD SUPPLY FROM AI?
The likelihood of avian influenza-infected poultry entering the U.S. food supply is extremely low due to import restrictions, extensive disease testing programs, and state/federal inspection programs. All shipments of eggs and poultry are tested to ensure that products are free of AI before entering the food supply.
The United States prohibits poultry and poultry products from regions where avian influenza has been detected in commercial or traditionally raised poultry. Monitoring for illegally smuggled poultry and poultry products has increased. All live birds, including pet birds and live poultry, imported from approved countries (except Canada) are quarantined and tested upon entry.
WILL EATING POULTRY INCREASE THE RISK FOR BECOMING INFECTED WITH AI?
Properly prepared and cooked poultry is safe to eat so not a source of AI virus infection of any strain. Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit kills the AI virus, as well as other organisms. While most human illnesses have resulted from direct contact with sick or dead birds, a small number have resulted from eating raw poultry or poultry products, so proper cooking is important in areas where avian influenza might be present.
Adapted from information provided by Dr. Tom Tabler; USDA-APHIS and CDC Publications; Indiana Board of Animal Health; Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health Department; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control; Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry