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    Kelsey Laubach, Lynchburg Extension Agent - 4H Youth Development / Unit Coordinator

    Backyard flocks are like the “canary in the coal mines” and need to be concerned with this year’s Eurasian strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 which is also known as bird flu or HPAI H5.  In Virginia, this bird flu has been found in multiple wild bird populations and in one backyard flock.  This disease spreads through fecal contamination of pond water, materials, equipment, crates, flies, litter, contaminated feed, and other contaminated items that have been in contact with infected birds.  The virus can survive 35 days in manure, soil, and water and can survive for more than three months in cold weather.  The commercial poultry industry is enacting extra measures that were learned from a Shenandoah Valley outbreak in 2002.

    There is a high concern for backyard poultry flocks and their health.  Note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the risk to the general public (humans) from Eurasian HPAI H5 infections to be low.  No one in the United States has been infected with this current outbreak.  Bird flu was first identified in 1878 and has mutated as single strand RNA viruses do ever since.  It impacts poultry somewhere in the world on average about every five years and it is important to focus and get the facts on this current strain.  This year’s outbreak is concerning if you look at what has happened in Europe for the past two years with this existing strain. 

    From an economic standpoint, the last major outbreak in the US (2014-2015 in the Midwest) cost farmers over $50 million and the Midwest economy a conservative $1.9 billion.  We are on a similar track if not worse at this point with a wider initial infection area being impacted in the US and in the world.   Everyone with birds, especially backyard flocks need to be aware of the seriousness of the situation and its potential impact on Virginia’s number one agricultural commodity.

    The bird mortality rate of this strain of bird flu is 60 to 70 % within a couple of days of infection, which is much higher and quicker than previous strains.  Decreased activity, lowered feed intake, decreased production, respiratory problems, diarrhea, and purple discoloration are a few of the symptoms.  Basically, when discovered, the birds are dead or very sick and it will be obvious.  Do not wait to verify and test for bird flu if it happens by contacting the state veterinary office (804-692-0601).  We have a local lab in Lynchburg VA also that you can take dead birds for necropsy. 434-200-9988

    As an all-out effort for everyone with birds, please take precautions and take collective preventative actions.  It is time to be hypervigilant about your backyard flocks.  The site below has the best resources with the most accurate backyard flock biosecurity information. 

    Keep your flock, their feed, and water inside if possible.  Keep your birds away from wild birds and contaminants, especially fecal matter and surface waters.  Hand washing, dedicated footwear, and clean clothing are needed before and after tending poultry.  Minimize bringing items, animals, and people into your bird’s environment and keep a good journal.  Avoid visitors, dead birds, bird swaps, or introducing new birds at this time.  If your job involves being around birds, try to stay away from other birds for at least 72 hours.  If you have a neighbor, friend, or relative, please pass the word far and wide on preventing this virus.  Here is the VDACS State Veterinary Office number again (804-692-0601).

    USDA APHIS Defend the Flock Resource Center