Keeping You and Your Flock Healthy – Information on Avian Influenza  

April 18, 2024 -

What is HPAI 

  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly called “bird flu,” is a virus found among various species of birds. HPAI viruses can infect domestic poultry, which includes chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl. This disease is caused by the Influenza A virus and the disease varies in severity depending on the strain and species affected. The specific concern with HPAI is that this strain of the virus can be deadly to domestic poultry, wiping out entire flocks within a matter of days. Limiting the spread of HPAI should be a priority of all flock owners. 

Signs of disease in animals 

  • Lack of coordination  
  • Low energy or appetite  
  • Purple discoloration or swelling of the head, comb, wattles, eyelids and/or hocks  
  • Reduced egg production or soft-shelled/misshapen eggs  
  • Nasal discharge, coughing or sneezing  
  • Diarrhea  
  • Sudden death with no prior signs 

Health concerns for people 

  • The risk of HPAI infections in the public remains low, however monitoring the health of people in contact with birds is important. To lower the risk of infections, flock caretakers and those with access to poultry should use good personal hygiene and biosecurity practices when having contact with birds.  
  • The reported signs and symptoms of avian influenza virus infections in humans have ranged from no symptoms or mild flu-like respiratory symptoms to severe illness requiring hospitalization.   
  • Transmission of avian influenza from human to human is very rare. 

Signs in people can include

  • Fever (temperature of 100ºF [37.8ºC] or greater) or feeling feverish 
  • Cough 
  • Sore throat, runny, or stuffy nose 
  • Muscle or body aches 
  • Headaches 
  • Fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Conjunctivitis  
  • Less common signs and symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or seizures 

How HPAI is spread  

HPAI is highly contagious and can be carried by migratory wild birds, geese, ducks and other fowl.  

  • This disease can be spread by direct contact (bird-to-bird) by exposure to:  
    • Saliva 
    • Mucous 
    • Feces from infected birds
  • It can also be spread through indirect contact through contaminated items such as:  
    • Equipment 
    •  Feed 
    • Clothing and shoes of animal caretakers 
    • Rodents and pests 
  • Flock owners should observe their birds for signs of disease, if sick birds are present care should be taken to not expose other animals to disease.  

Human health and hygiene 

  • People with access to birds should practice good hygiene and wash their hands frequently.  Influenza viruses are highly sensitive to soap and hot water.  

Good hygiene practices include 

  • Washing hands with warm water and soap, scrubbing hands for 20 seconds 
  • Have dedicated footwear for the farm, if possible have dedicated footwear to the coop area 
  • Wear clean clothes & shoes to the farm  
  • If a change of footwear is not an option, disinfect shoes with a spray disinfectant after visiting the coop area 
  • If you have contact with other livestock, clothing and footwear should be changed before coming to the farm    
  • Do not eat and drink around animals or in the barn  
  • Visitors and friends with access to other flocks should not have access to your flock   
  • Monitor yourself for potential symptoms of HPAI 

Keeping your flock healthy: Farm Biosecurity 

  • What is biosecurity and why is it important? Protecting your flock from the entry and spread of diseases is important. Biosecurity practices are ways that you can help limit the spread of disease and reduce the chance of a disease outbreak in your flock. Some key practices caretakers can implement to best manage the risk of disease entry and spread on their farms are:  
    • Wear clean clothing and footwear while caring for animals  
    • Practice good personal hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap and hot water   
    • Regularly clean and disinfect tools and equipment used on the farm  
    • Do not visit neighboring flocks; if you must, wear different clothing and footwear than you wear with your flock  
    • Limit exposure to your flock from anyone who has had contact with other flocks of birds 
    • If guests come to the farm, identify a specific area for parking away from animal housing 
    • Separate, or ideally isolate, any newly acquired animals for a minimum of 14 days and monitor new animals for signs of illness  
    • Know the signs and symptoms of illness   
    • Care for new, separated, isolated or sick animals last 
  • If you suspect illness in your flock, care should be taken to isolate these birds from other animals and if possible, designate a caregiver to only care for poultry  

Strategies to limit contact with wildlife  

  • Limit wildlife attractants  
    • Remove standing or pooling water  
    • Reduce food resources by storing feed in sealable containers and providing feed and water inside the coop 
    • Close and latch dumpster and trash can lids 
  • Prevent wildlife access 
    • Remove areas that wild birds can perch on
    • Prevent wild birds from entering coops
    • Consider limiting free ranging practices
    • Cover established runs with netting or screens  
  • Add wildlife deterrents  
    • Consider using decoys 
    • Safety of food supply   
  • The CDC asserts that “the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 [degrees Fahrenheit] kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI A(H5) viruses.”  
  • Properly prepared and cooked poultry products remain safe to consume. The chance of infected poultry or egg products entering the food chain is extremely low due to the rapid onset of symptoms of HPAI and the USDA flock monitoring and inspection safeguards that are in place.   
  • Flock owners should practice good hygiene, including washing hands with soap and water after contact with animals or animal products, including eggs.  

Reporting disease  

  • Bird owners should contact MDARD if they suspect an HPAI infection in birds at 1-800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after-hours).   
  • The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) notes that HPAI is not evidenced by one bird showing symptoms or dying while the remaining flock continues acting normally. Small flock and backyard poultry owners should take notice when two or more birds die within a 24-hour period and the rest of the flock is exhibiting symptoms of HPAI.  
  • If unusual or unexplained wild bird deaths are noticed, cases should be reported to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources by using the DNR’s Eyes in the Field app, choose the “Diseased Wildlife” option in the “Observation Forms,” or by calling the DNR Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030.   

More information/resources 


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