Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is a serious disease and requires rapid response because it is highly contagious and often fatal to chickens. In the beginning of February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the first case of HPAI in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana.
Since then, there have been 14 confirmed cases including in New York, Maine, Indiana, Delaware, Kentucky, Virginia, and, most recently, Michigan. APHIS anticipates additional avian influenza detections will occur in additional states as wild bird surveillance continues into the spring. At-risk birds include chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl. Free-flying migratory waterfowl, such as ducks, geese and shorebirds may also carry HPAI without showing any signs of illness.
After announcing the first confirmed case, the organization launched a joint incident response. APHIS works with its federal, state, local and industry partners to quickly mobilize a response to any HPAI findings. The goal is to quickly contain and eradicate the disease, protecting the poultry industry, and in turn, the American consumer.
Avian influenza is caused by influenza Type A virus (influenza A). Avian-origin influenza viruses are broadly categorized based on a combination of two groups of proteins on the surface of the influenza A virus: hemagglutinin or “H” proteins, of which there are 16 (H1-H16), and neuraminidase or “N” proteins, of which there are 9 (N1-N9). Many different combinations of “H” and “N” proteins are possible. Avian influenza viruses are classified as either “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” based on their genetic features and the severity of the disease they cause in poultry. Most viruses are of low pathogenicity, meaning that they causes no signs or only minor clinical signs of infection in poultry.
It is not uncommon to detect avian influenza in wild birds, as avian influenza viruses circulate freely in those populations without the birds appearing sick. In addition to monitoring for avian influenza in wild bird populations, APHIS monitors for the virus in commercial and backyard birds.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recent HPAI detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills bacteria and viruses.
As part of existing avian influenza response plans, Federal and State partners are working jointly on additional surveillance and testing in areas around the affected flock. The United States has the strongest AI surveillance program in the world, and USDA is working with its partners to actively look for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets and in migratory wild bird populations.
Anyone involved with poultry production from the small backyard to the large commercial producer should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. APHIS has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and a toolkit available here.