Since Dec. 2021, a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza, H5N1, has caused significant mortalities in birds at an exhibition farm and in a small flock in Newfoundland and Labrador. Analysis of the virus shows it is related to a H5N1 strain that circulated in northwestern Europe during the spring of 2021. Migrating waterfowl likely brought the virus to Canada. On Jan. 14, the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed a similar Eurasian virus in a hunter harvested duck in South Carolina. Two additional findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds in North Carolina and South Carolina were announced on January 18 and USDA confirmed all three findings to be H5N1.
While this disease detection is of major concern for poultry producers along the Atlantic flyway migratory route in the eastern U.S., it is another reminder for everyone who owns poultry to practice strict biosecurity. During wild bird migrations, it is especially important to keep poultry confined. Keep boots or some type of shoe cover for use in poultry facilities and do not wear them outside. In the past, some poultry flocks have been infected by people not changing footwear when entering poultry buildings. The main purpose of biosecurity is to keep what is outside out and what is inside in.
Since this detection occurred on the Atlantic flyway, it is less of a threat to Michigan poultry than it is for poultry in eastern coastal states. Michigan receives most of its waterfowl migration from the Central and Mississippi flyways but migrating waterfowl do not read maps.
Because domesticated birds are so susceptible to highly pathogenic avian influenza, the first sign of infection may be sudden death. Poultry owners who have a sudden death loss in their flock (2 to 3 dead birds out of a flock of 10), multiple birds paralyzed at the same time or with twisted necks, contact your state veterinarian or animal health official to report it. In Michigan, poultry owners should call the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at 800-292-3939.
The Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory assists state and federal agencies in disease investigations by providing testing for diseases such as avian influenza. The laboratory also performs post-mortem examinations for poultry owners to help identify health issues in their flock. Owners experiencing limited losses can contact the Laboratory at (517) 353-1683 for information on how to submit an animal for a post-mortem examination.
For more information on protecting flocks with biosecurity measures, visit USDA’s Defend the Flock site for tools, resources, and more.
This article was originally featured on the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory website.