Facts About Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

Bird flu is an infection caused by viruses that occur naturally among birds. Wild birds throughout the world carry the viruses in their intestines but usually do not get sick from them. However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can sicken and kill some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys.  Slaughtering or butchering infected birds poses the greatest risk for humans, as well as coming into contact with the feces of infected birds and swimming in areas where infected birds have died. The virus that causes the disease is killed when poultry is cooked.

Signs of bird flu in birds
Birds infected with bird flu are likely to show signs of general illness with ruffled feathers, poor appetite, decrease in egg production, and watery diarrhea. Chickens often have swollen combs, wattles and swelling around the eyes. Labored breathing and pneumonia are often found. Death usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours of the first signs of disease.

How does bird flu spread?
Infected birds spread flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Birds become infected through direct contact with infected birds or objects contaminated with bird secretions. The greatest risk to North Carolina’s poultry industry is posed by migrating birds (especially waterfowl) infected with the disease, or through the illegal shipment of infected birds. Since 2003, humans and birds have been infected in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. In 2005, the disease spread to birds in Russia, Mongolia, Romania, Croatia and Ukraine. More recently, the disease has spread to seven European Union countries: Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia and France. A strain of bird flu that can kill birds and humans was found on a turkey farm in France late last month, the first time the disease has been reported in a commercial flock in the Western World. These infected turkeys were housed inside near a lake where a wild duck was found dead from the virus. This case shows that even birds raised inside can get infected.

About 5,000 poultry farms do business in North Carolina and produce more than $2 billion in cash receipts. North Carolina will aggressively respond to an outbreak of bird flu to by following a bird flu response plan. If the disease is found, the farm would be quickly quarantined and the disease traced to its source. Every chicken would be euthanized, and over the next two or three months, the bodies would be left to compost inside the houses. That way, the disease never leaves the farm. A farmer could not raise chickens again until the NCDA&CS determined that the houses were disease free.

If your flock experiences sickness or deaths contact your veterinarian, extension agent or the NCDA&CS to help find the cause of the problem. If a disease is suspected, animals or samples should be sent to a laboratory because bird flu can be confirmed only through laboratory testing.  Some poultry farmers are placing disinfectant foot baths outside poultry houses, requiring all who enter to wear disposable booties and wash their feet after leaving a house.

There is little North Carolina can do to keep out migrating fowl that are diseased. State and industry officials are focusing on containing the disease, if or when it arrives. For more information about the bird flu and how to prevent poultry disease in your flock, see:



Compiled by Jean Harrison, 2006

Posted on Mar 18, 2006
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