By Michele F. Mihaljevich
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana hasn’t had a reported case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) since the spring, but that hasn’t stopped state animal health officials from being concerned more cases could develop as wild birds begin their annual migration period this fall.
“While we have not had a HPAI test-positive case since early May, the risk still exists for poultry – in commercial and small/hobby flocks,” said Denise Derrer Spears, public information director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH). “Nationally, the most recent case was in early August in a New York flock. Therefore, poultry owners need to stay diligent.
“The fall wild bird migration is under way and activity is likely to increase in the weeks to come. That is why BOAH continues to emphasize the importance of limiting poultry contact with wild birds. That means keeping them out of coops/barns and restricting access to unprotected outdoor spaces.”
Wild waterfowl – ducks and geese – have been the species most likely to carry the virus, Spears said. Flock owners who have ducks should limit their access to ponds and other water sources where wild ducks and geese visit, she added.
As of Sept. 8, 839 flocks – 325 commercial and 514 backyard – in 47 states were confirmed to have HPAI since the latest outbreak began in 2022, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Nearly 58.8 million birds have been destroyed, the agency said.
Last year’s nationwide HPAI outbreak began in February at a commercial turkey operation in Dubois County, Ind. Before the 2022 cases, HPAI was last found in commercial poultry nationwide in 2020 and in Indiana in 2016, BOAH has said.
Eleven commercial flocks in the Hoosier state have lost nearly 228,000 turkeys and ducks since the outbreak began, BOAH said. HPAI has also been detected in wild birds in most states, including all in the Farm World primary readership area, APHIS stated.
Michigan hasn’t had a confirmed case of HPAI in domestic poultry since March 2023, but the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) said it continues to investigate calls regarding sick domestic birds.
“While the rate of HPAI detections (has) decreased in Michigan and the United States, this does not mean the threat posed by the virus has been eliminated,” Dr. Nora Wineland, state veterinarian, explained in a statement. “As the disease continues to circulate in wild birds, their fall migration can cause the virus to spread once again. It is just as important now as it was at the start of the outbreak for bird owners to take every step they can to protect their birds from being exposed to wild birds and their germs.”
Since late February 2022, APHIS said more than 38,000 birds have been destroyed in Michigan due to HPAI. One commercial flock and 22 backyard flocks have been impacted.
MDARD said even though the state has gone over four months without a new detection of the disease in domestic birds, “this trend is part of a broader pattern that was seen last year – namely, cases are noted early in the year when the spring migration of wild birds starts, there is a lull throughout the summer months, and cases increase in the fall when wild birds migrate once again.”
Indiana’s BOAH can’t speculate on the likelihood of seeing more cases this fall because this virus is unpredictable, Spears said.
“The disease spread activity we have seen in 2023 has been very different from 2022,” she noted. “Flu viruses are constantly mutating and changing as they pass from one bird to another, so the relative ‘calm’ we have seen recently could change at any time. That is why poultry owners need to stay diligent with biosecurity efforts to prevent the disease.”
The public health risk associated with HPAI remains low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MDARD said no birds or bird products infected with HPAI will enter the commercial food chain.
Iowa hasn’t had a confirmed case of HPAI in domestic birds since the virus was detected in a backyard flock in Chickasaw County earlier this year.
“Though we have not had a case in Iowa since March, we remain prepared to respond to a possible reoccurrence of highly pathogenic avian influenza as the fall migration is getting underway,” Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said. “Enhanced biosecurity continues to be the best line of defense to protect animal health, and we encourage poultry producers and those with backyard birds to remain vigilant.”
HPAI is a highly contagious viral disease and can travel in wild birds without those birds appearing sick, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said. HPAI is often fatal to domestic bird populations, including chickens and turkeys. The virus can spread through droppings or the nasal discharge of an infected bird, which can contaminate dust and soil.
Since the outbreak began in Iowa, nearly 16 million birds have been destroyed, APHIS said. HPAI has been detected in 25 commercial flocks and seven backyard flocks.
Signs of HPAI may include a sudden increase in bird deaths without any clinical signs, lethargy and/or lack of energy and appetite, decrease in egg production and swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks, the Iowa agency said.
MDARD said flock owners can prevent contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing their animals indoors and ensuring their outdoor area is fully enclosed. Other tips from the agency include wash hands before and after handling birds and when moving between different coops; disinfect boots and other gear when moving between coops; and use well or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
Hoosier commercial and backyard flock owners should report clinical signs of HPAI to a private veterinarian or BOAH (866-536-7593). In Michigan, call MDARD at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after hours) to report suspected HPAI in domestic birds. To report possible cases in Iowa, contact a veterinarian and call the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship at 515-281-5305.