Keep alert for signs of Avian Influenza in your flock

Amy Barkley, Livestock and Beginning Farm Specialist with the SWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program

Two flocks in the Hudson Valley and one on Long Island have been destroyed to keep avian flu from spreading

There have been over 250 cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza detected in nine states, including in three counties of New York.

FINGER LAKES — Avian Influenza is a highly contagious poultry virus that has the potential to cause large financial losses to the U.S. poultry industry. A highly pathogenic strain (HPAI), H5N1, last hit the U.S. in 2014-2015, and was considered the nation’s largest animal health emergency. Over 200 cases of the disease were found in commercial flocks, backyard flocks, and wild birds. More than 50 million birds were affected and subsequently died or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states. Waterfowl, both wild and domestic, act as carriers.

Since the outbreak of 2014-2015, scientists have been monitoring wild bird populations, and waterfowl hunters send their harvested birds in for testing. Wild waterfowl regularly carry low-pathogenic strains of the virus, but it can easily mutate to a highly pathogenic strain, as we’ve seen this year.

Avian Influenza • Scientific name: Orthomyxoviridae, Influenza Type A • Introduced to U.S.: 2014 • Native to: Italy Microbes are considered to be an invasive species, and avian influenza is a pathogen that infects poultry, waterfowls, and some types of mammals. The avian flu outbreak between 2014 and 2015 killed an estimated 50 million birds, costing the U.S. economy between $1 billion and $3.3 billion.

Two laboratory-confirmed cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, one in a pheasant flock in Dutchess County and one in a backyard flock in Ulster County, were identified in New York State on Thursday, Feb. 24. These follow the case identified in a backyard flock in Suffolk County Feb. 19. These flocks have been euthanized to help control the spread of the virus.

While these are only three cases, it is anticipated that there will be many more. The states with wild bird positives (250 cases) now include New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky. Cases will increase across the northeast as wild waterfowl migrate northward in the coming months.

Commercial flocks in Delaware, Indiana, and Kentucky have been affected, as have backyard flocks in Virginia, Maine, New York, and Michigan. For updates on confirmed cases in wild birds, commercial flocks, and backyard flocks, visit

While the disease is circulating in wild and domestic bird populations, there is no need to panic, but there is need to be on high alert. Poultry owners should be prepared to report any disease in their flock that looks suspicious.

HPAI lives in the respiratory and/or intestinal tract of birds. It can be picked up from contact with infected feces, surfaces, or through the air, though aerial transmission from farm to farm is unlikely. It can be transported on infected feed, clothing, or equipment. It can also be spread through wild bird populations encountering domestic birds and other living creatures, such as rodents and insects. Once on the farm, the disease is readily passed from bird to bird, infecting an entire flock quickly.

Domestic poultry flocks of any size, from back yard to commercial, and any species can be affected. Waterfowl may be affected and not show symptoms. Affected wild bird populations are mostly waterfowl, which can carry the disease and not show symptoms. Any type of bird can be affected, but birds other than waterfowl react most strongly to the virus. Poultry infected with HPAI may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
  • Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing
  • Discoordination
  • Diarrhea

A high level of mortality without any clinical signs is known to be a hallmark of the virus. In some cases, expect 100% of the flock to die within a few days. Regardless of how the disease presents, a large portion of the birds in a flock will be affected. Waterfowl may carry the virus but not show symptoms.

With any suspicious disease, rule out obvious causes such as predation and weather issues. Deaths that are in the realm of “normal” don’t need to be reported. If a large number of your birds are sick or dying, it's important to report it immediately so that we can stop the spread to any other flocks. You can call:

  • Your local veterinarian or flock veterinarian
  • The State veterinarian serving your county

  • The State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at 607-253-3900; email; or online at

  • The USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593

For more information, please contact Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension office at 315-536-5123. See their webpage at