With the discovery of a few wild birds in western Kentucky testing positive for avian influenza, also known as bird flu, many questions exist about the disease. Avian influenza is actually a group of viruses that can infect domestic and wild birds. The viruses can be classified by their ability to cause illness and death. The strain of concern right now is H5N2, a highly contagious strain that can cause high death loss and rapidly spread from flock to flock.
Bird flu spreads through the bodily fluids and feces of infected birds. Wild birds are a host for the disease; they may not even show signs of having it. This particular strain doesn’t show any potential for human infection, thus far.
It’s important for poultry producers and backyard chicken keepers to recognize symptoms of bird flu to help keep it from spreading.
Common signs of flu in chickens and turkeys include:
• Sudden death
• Little or no energy or appetite
• Few or no eggs produced
• Soft or deformed eggs
• Nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing or breathing difficulty
• Swelling around the head, neck and eyes
• Purple discoloration
• Loss of muscle control
• Drooping wings, twisting of head and neck or inability to move
Birds may have the disease for 3 to 7 days before showing signs and death could occur 24 to 48 hours after the first signs. Remember though, other diseases can cause similar symptoms. Always seek a veterinarian’s advice. Be sure to wear latex or rubber gloves and washable clothing when touching sick or dead birds. Don’t touch feces or bodily fluids from sick or dead birds.
Early detection and reporting are very important ways to stop the spread of bird flu. If you see unusual symptoms or if you have a high number of deaths in your flock, contact your local veterinarian or the state veterinarian at 502- 782-5920. You may also call the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s toll-free hotline at 866-536-7593.
To report any sick or dead waterfowl in Kentucky, call the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife at 800-858-1549. For other types of wild birds, only call to report deaths of five or more birds.
For more information about poultry production or backyard chickens, contact Shad Baker at the Letcher County Cooperative Extension Service at 633-2362.