May 22, 2022

Extension Notebook: Protecting your flock from HPAI infection

On Feb. 8, it was discovered that Avian Influenza (HPAI) had infected a turkey flock in Indiana. When I saw that report, I immediately thought about the last time the poultry industry was hit with avian influenza infections. Back in 2015, approximately 50 million commercial layer and turkey flocks were infected with this virus, and had to be euthanized and depopulated. The cost to poultry producers was very expensive and it took some time to get back to normal production.

Currently, the nation’s poultry industry is going through another bout of HPAI infections in commercial egg, turkey, and broiler flocks. Not only has disease affected the commercial poultry industry, but it has also hit many backyard, small flocks, a few game-bird flocks, and a few commercial duck operations around the country. The disease has been detected in 29 states in the U.S. So far, over 32 million commercial broilers turkeys, layers, pullets, upland game and duck specialty breeder birds have been infected with HPAI and have had to be euthanized and depopulated. In addition, 857 wild birds (ducks and geese) have also been affected.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a virus disease that is very deadly to domestic poultry. The virus is carried and transmitted, mainly by migratory waterfowl. These birds spend the winter in South America, where they co-mingle and then migrate back to northern Canada and Alaska in the spring. This year, the virus was present in these birds when they migrated back north and along the way they deposited the virus when they were migrating. If the virus gets inside a commercial, small flock, or backyard flock of poultry, those birds will become infected. The only way to control these virus infections is to depopulate the birds affected as well as every bird in the flock or on the premise. In Illinois, there have only been two small flocks diagnosed with HPAI.

So, the real question becomes how can small flock or backyard flock owners protect their birds from this devastating disease? The main answer to this question is that every person who keeps poultry should always practice good biosecurity when taking care of birds. This is the case whether HPAI is present or not. The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service has published a good resource that provides information about protecting your flock from HPAI and other diseases. The website is tinyurl.com/sdprfk89.

Over the past two months, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has put out several news releases to try to stop the possible infection of poultry with HPAI. They published a release back on Feb. 17 that recommended small flock and backyard flock owners keep their poultry inside. Additionally, on April 5, the department announced that the sale or exhibiting of poultry and poultry products at swap meets, exhibitions, flea markets and auction markets was prohibited. This rule took effect immediately and will be kept in force for 45 days. After that time, the department will reevaluate the rule. If anyone wants to learn more about HPAI, visit the DOA website at tinyurl.com/3bxu7nn9.

Finally, If you raise poultry, make sure you follow appropriate biosecurity practices to help reduce the possibility of your birds contracting HPAI.

Ken Koelkebeck, Ph.D., is a Poultry Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois.