Avian influenza is a disease caused by a virus that infects wild birds such as geese, ducks, swans and shorebirds, and domestic poultry, including turkeys, chickens, ducks, and geese.

Avian influenza has been documented in domestic poultry and wild waterfowl at low levels in the United States for decades. In birds, most strains of the virus (identified with letters and numbers, for example, H3N2) are mild (low pathogenic) and cause only mild symptoms. The virus currently of concern in North America is H5N2, which is of the same strain of avian influenza virus that was found in the Pacific Flyway earlier this year. The strain is virulent and highly pathogenic (HP) causing severe illness and catastrophic death loss in poultry.

The last global concern of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was 2006 when the H5N1 Asian strain was circulating in other countries and a number of people and animals in those countries became extremely ill. There have been no reported incidences of human illness associated with any of the current HPAI H5N2 outbreaks. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections to be low.

The USDA keeps track of outbreaks throughout the United States. Regular updates are posted on the avian influenza reporting section of their website.

Each of the infected flocks, regardless of commercial or backyard, is depopulated. The approach serves two functions:

  1. Limits exposure of healthy, non-infected flocks in order to contain the disease.
  2. Ensures a secure food supply by removing infected meat and eggs from circulation or removing them from potentially being circulated.

As a result, people should have no reservations about normal poultry and egg consumption during this time period.

Commercial poultry production in the U.S. and Michigan includes strict biosecurity measures at the farm level to ensure the health and welfare of poultry as well as provide safe and wholesome food products. The practice of raising chickens and turkeys indoors provides a healthy, safe and controlled environment that minimizes the chances of spreading a variety of bird diseases including avian influenza. 

The Egg Industry Center has updated a web page with all the state contacts, testing lab links, biosecurity information, and other useful information about avian influenza. 

Domestic poultry raised out-of-doors, often in small backyard flocks, have a much greater risk of being exposed to diseases like avian influenza which can be carried by wild birds. When wild birds and domestic poultry share water, feeding and living areas, the possibility for disease transmission from one to the other significantly increases. Utilizing biosecurity measures can help keep birds healthy.

Decreased appetite, severe depression, a drastic decline in egg production, swollen combs and wattles, hemorrhages on skin and internal membrane surfaces and sudden death are all signs that a poultry flock may be infected with avian influenza. Laboratory testing is needed to confirm the disease. If small poultry or domestic waterfowl flock owners detect any of the above signs in their birds, they should contact their private veterinary practitioner or Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at 800-292-3939; (after hours) 517-373-0440.

In Michigan, MDARD responds to confirmed cases of HPAI and conducts surveillance by testing animals and will notify private practice veterinarians and stakeholders of the disease. MDARD also provides expertise in the area of domestic animal disease control including quarantine, testing and euthanasia where necessary. MDARD cooperates with MSU’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (DCPAH) for diagnostic services. 

USDA Veterinary Services in Michigan provides expertise in the area of epidemiology, diagnostic laboratory support and testing in conjunction with DCPAH when avian influenza is suspected in poultry. The Michigan Veterinary Services office provides staff in the event large numbers of animals must be euthanized. In an emergency, the Michigan USDA Veterinary Services office may request a risk assessment from the USDA Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health. Michigan State University, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the USDA Veterinary Services will work as a team if this disease occurs in Michigan.