Some birds dead from flu, the rest ‘depopulated’ as precaution
State and federal agricultural safety officials have confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), also known as avian influenza, in a non-commercial backyard (non-poultry) flock in Lamoille County this week. Samples taken on Monday were tested and confirmed for HPAI by a federal lab in Ames, Iowa.
The small flock of just over 50 birds suffered high mortality over the weekend of December 3-4, and the owners reached out to Vermont Agency on Agriculture and Food Markets (VAAFM) Monday morning. The remaining flock was quarantined to prevent the spread of disease and was depopulated today by officials from VAAFM and USDA, with the agreement and understanding of the flock’s owners. Though HPAI is considered to be low risk to human health, those who have had contact with infected birds or their environment are being monitored by the Vermont Department of Health. At this time, no other domestic flocks have shown signs of illness.
This localized outbreak reinforces the importance of public awareness and vigilance for poultry owners, farmers, and hunters, to report sick and dead birds. The current risk to the public is low, and there has been only one, clinically mild, human case of HPAI in the United States. However, the virus remains deadly to many species of birds, and all bird owners, from those who own backyard pets to commercial farmers, are strongly encouraged to review biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks.
For the agriculture community and poultry owners:
The HPAI virus is often initially introduced to domestic poultry by infected wild birds, through direct contact or contact with their droppings, and then may spread between poultry flocks due to poor biosecurity and/or unfavorable environmental conditions. While some waterfowl species can carry the disease without becoming sick, the HPAI virus is generally fatal for domestic poultry. Risk factors for the spread of HPAI include:
- Poultry housed outside
- Ponds or other wild bird attractants on the farm
- Piles of debris located close to poultry areas
- Introduction of poultry from other farms without a quarantine period
- Lack of personal protective equipment such as dedicated coveralls and boots
- Sharing of equipment between farms
- Unrestricted human movement and interaction with poultry
Anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard coop to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to ensure the health of their birds, restrict human movement onto the farm and limit contact with poultry to only those who NEED to be there. Non-essential personnel and visitors should not be allowed. USDA has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and a toolkit available here. In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, VAAFM at 802-828-2421 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593 as soon as possible. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found here.
For the fish and wildlife community:
If you hunt wild fowl during Vermont’s available hunting seasons, please keep these tips in mind.
Some birds may be infected with HPAI even if they do not look sick. To stay safe, Vermonters can take these steps to avoid exposure to the virus:
- Avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance.
- Avoid unprotected contact with domestic birds that look sick or have died.
- Wash hands with soap and water after touching any birds.
- Do not touch surfaces that may be contaminated with saliva, mucous, or feces from wild or domestic birds.
Influenza in poultry does not constitute a food safety risk. Vermonters are asked to be alert for dead or sick birds and alert the USDA or Vermont authorities at 802-828-2421 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593 as soon as possible.