Backyard Chickens: a Risky Proposition?
By Tom Seest
At BackyardChickenNews, we help people who want to raise backyard chickens by collating information and news blended with our own personal experiences.
If you have chickens, you’re likely aware of the risks of avian flu, which is caused by a strain of orthomyxovirus. The disease affects both humans and animals, and the virus is commonly found in wild aquatic birds. If you have backyard chickens, you may want to learn more about avian flu and how you can protect your flock.
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The H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread from Europe to the United States, and the disease has caused significant damage to domesticated birds. Although there are no reports of human illness due to this virus, it is important to understand the causes and potential risks of the disease. Backyard chickens may be susceptible to the virus due to exposure to domestic ducks. Increasing awareness of the disease among backyard chicken owners can help to reduce the risk of backyard chicken infection.
The signs and symptoms of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in backyard chickens may be hard to detect, but it is possible to reduce the risk of infection by implementing protective measures. Aside from ensuring adequate sanitation and cleaning, backyard farmers should also report any signs of disease to animal health authorities. It is important to isolate new birds from the flock for at least 30 days to ensure that they do not contract the virus. They should also avoid sharing poultry equipment with their neighbors.
Avian influenza viruses are naturally occurring in birds and are spread by fecal droppings and saliva. Although most birds do not develop symptoms when infected, it is highly contagious among birds. High-pathogenic strains can cause rapid mortality in both wild and domestic chickens.
Backyard poultry owners should understand that avian influenza can be harmful to their flocks especially highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). If you think your flock is showing signs of disease, quarantine them immediately and separate them from any known disease sources. Moreover, you should always keep the poultry area clean and separate new birds from the flock for 30 days. You also should avoid sharing poultry equipment with neighbors and other poultry owners. Unfortunately, HPAI is already affecting backyard flocks throughout the United States. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported several recent cases of the virus in backyard flocks.
However, it should be noted that HPAI outbreaks are usually confined to large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds, which are more vulnerable to this disease. While backyard poultry flocks are not typically highly susceptible to this disease, they should be considered when determining the best methods of prevention.
While HPAI has a high fatality rate in domesticated fowl, it is low enough to be considered a risk to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not reported any cases of human infection associated with HPAI H5 viruses. Despite the low human threat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working with state officials to help backyard poultry owners protect their flocks from this highly pathogenic virus.
Infected birds shed the virus in their saliva, mucous, and feces. If enough of the virus gets into the nose, mouth, or eyes of humans, the infection can cause serious health problems. You should follow the guidelines and regulations regarding the proper biosecurity practices around your backyard flock.
Avian influenza is an infection that affects both domestic and wild birds. The virus can cause severe disease and even death if not treated quickly. Some LPPAI strains mutate into HPAI viruses. In addition to avian poultry, wild birds are also contributing to the spread of this virus in the U.S.
In the United States, multiple subtypes of the avian influenza virus are regularly discovered in backyard flocks. In fact, it’s not uncommon for multiple outbreaks of avian influenza to occur during the fall season. The spread of the virus is often traced to the movement of infected birds and contaminated materials. This virus can also be transmitted to commercial flocks through contact with birds.
Prevention is the best cure. During heightened outbreaks, you should monitor your flock for signs of respiratory distress or altered eating habits. Then, if necessary, you should pen your poultry to prevent further spread of the disease. Additionally, you should limit contact with other birds, especially those with questionable origins.
Be sure to read our other related stories at BackyardChickenNews to learn more about raising chickens in your backyard.