The MA Department of Agricultural Resources and its partner agencies have depopulated and disposed of two non-commercial, mixed-species backyard flocks (non-poultry)*, one in Barnstable County and one in Essex County, due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Birds on the affected premises exhibited clinical signs consistent with HPAI and tested positive for the disease.
The MDAR is advising backyard and commercial poultry owners to practice strong biosecurity measures to prevent domestic poultry from having contact with wild birds, their feathers, and droppings. The HPAI virus is continuing to circulate in the wild bird population, particularly in wild waterfowl. Eliminating standing water and preventing domestic birds from having access to ponds, streams, and wetland areas that attract wild waterfowl is of critical importance.
Additionally, over the past few days the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) has received reports of dead and dying wild Canada geese in Essex and Middlesex Counties and the surrounding coastal areas. These wild birds showed symptoms consistent with HPAI. Several samples have been collected for HPAI testing and results are pending. While humans are rarely infected with avian influenza viruses, humans that have prolonged close contact with sick or dead birds infected with HPAI are at the most risk of becoming infected. Officials are urging the public not to handle or feed any birds suspected of being infected. Pet owners should also prevent their dogs from making contact with wild birds.
REPORT sick or dead birds!
Domestic: 617-626-1795 or online using Poultry Disease Reporting Form
Wild: Department of Fish and Game, Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) - Report Wild birds here.
*Poultry vs Non Poultry
When referencing a HPAI outbreak, the World Organization of Animal Health (WOAH) describes poultry flocks as poultry or non poultry.
“WOAH, Terrestrial Animal Health Code, Glossary
means all birds reared or kept in captivity for the production of any commercial animal products or for breeding for this purpose, fighting cocks used for any purpose, and all birds used for restocking supplies of game or for breeding for this purpose, until they are released from captivity.
Birds that are kept in a single household, the products of which are used within the same household exclusively, are not considered poultry, provided that they have no direct or indirect contact with poultry or poultry facilities.
Birds that are kept in captivity for other reasons, including those that are kept for shows, racing, exhibitions, zoological collections and competitions, and for breeding or selling for these purposes, as well as pet birds, are not considered poultry, provided that they have no direct or indirect contact with poultry or poultry facilities.”
High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has worked with its sister agencies and federal partners to develop an emergency response plan for responding to outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Since December of 2021 there have been many HPAI incidents across the United States, including MA. The strains of the HPAI virus that have been identified in the US over the past few years have not been linked to human illness. Ongoing, routine testing of domestic poultry is being conducted by MDAR. MA Wildlife and USDA Fish and Wildlife are conducting surveillance in wild bird populations. MDAR is seeking to educate poultry owners about the risk this virus poses to their birds in hopes that owners will take precautions to prevent their flocks from exposure to the virus and the subsequent consequences if their flock becomes infected.
HPAI is a deadly disease for poultry. It can infect chickens, turkeys, domestic waterfowl, and game birds. HPAI can strike suddenly and spread quickly. Infected poultry may become sick and/or die within hours of becoming infected. The virus can be spread by contact with infected birds or contaminated materials.
There are a few simple steps bird owners can take to try to protect their flocks from avian influenza:
- Wild migratory birds are natural carriers for Avian Influenza viruses including HPAI. Preventing wild birds from mixing with or having contact with domestic flocks is essential to disease control and prevention. Poultry owners should assure their birds are kept away from wild birds, particularly wild waterfowl. Poultry owners with water bodies on their property should take steps to mitigate wild waterfowl from frequenting those areas. USDA provides helpful tips on mitigation of water access by wild waterfowl in the attached link. www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/fsc-hpai-wildlife-practices-reduce.pdf
- Avoid unnecessary movement of poultry between locations and be aware of the potential to carry HPAI contaminated materials onto properties where birds are kept.
- New birds should be completely isolated for at least one month prior to being added into the flock. Birds that are returning home from fairs or shows should also be isolated from the home flock as if they were new arrivals.
- Limit the number of people that have access to your flock.
- Do not share equipment with other bird owners without thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting between locations.
- Create a written biosecurity plan by actually writing down the precautions you take. This will allow others to take the same precautions should someone else need to care for your birds.
Sick birds produce large amounts of virus that contaminates the environment. Exposed birds can rapidly become infected. Timely reporting of sick and dying birds is a critical factor to prevent the virus from spreading to other poultry flocks. Once a flock is tested and confirmed as infected with HPAI, any remaining birds will need to be humanely euthanized to control the spread of the disease.
A program has been established by the USDA to compensate flock owners for any animals depopulated as part of the control efforts. The reimbursement does not apply to birds that die of the disease, so it is essential that flock owners notify the Department immediately upon signs of trouble. Owners of fancy or exotic birds should keep receipts and sales records that will help establish the value of your flock.
HPAI can cause a variety of clinical signs including respiratory illness, blue combs and wattles, decreased feed consumption and decreased egg production. In some cases, sudden death has been the only sign.
Any unexpected deaths or other signs of sick birds should be reported immediately to the Division of Animal Health at 617-626-1795 or through this online reporting form. Increased numbers of wild bird deaths should be reported to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife using the online form found at mass.gov/reportbirds. Prompt reporting will expedite rapid testing and diagnosis.
June 6, 2022 - Notice to All Veterinarians with Bird-Owning Clients-The Department appreciates your assistance in sharing awareness of HPAI. It is also important however to ensure that poultry including chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic birds receive veterinary care in a timely fashion. This link contains some suggestions for screening these poultry client’s calls that can guide veterinary practices in their intake protocols.”
Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI)
Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI), is a respiratory disease of poultry, turkeys, game birds, and waterfowl. Symptoms of low pathogenic AI are typically mild and in many cases not present. The disease, however, can manifest itself through depression, decreased food consumption, respiratory signs (coughing and sneezing), and a decrease in egg production. More information on AI is available on the APHIS Website.
To help prevent the introduction of this disease into Massachusetts the Bureau of Animal Health is:
- Developing protocols for the importation of poultry into Massachusetts based on ongoing disease surveillance;
- Participating in the federal surveillance program for Live Bird Markets.
- Implementing increased biosecurity at rendering facilities and other poultry and poultry related activities;
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), has established a surveillance program for Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease - AI/END. Diagnostic services are available through this program at no cost to the flock owner.
Flocks experiencing sudden mortality, respiratory symptoms, or swollen heads should contact the Department as soon as possible for assistance in the submittal of these birds to the laboratory for necropsy at 617-626-1795.
The risk of humans contracting HPAI from infected birds if very, very low. Humans that are most at risk of becoming infected are individuals that have prolonged close contact with sick or dead birds. More information can be found in this Frequently Asked Questions About Avian Flu document created by MDPH, MDAR, and MDFW.