Bird flu outbreaks rise, especially in backyard chickens 

Since the 2015 avian flu outbreak ravaged Minnesota’s poultry flocks, turkey farmer John Zimmerman has been on high alert.

“We’re quite worried. Since the last epidemic, we’ve been concerned.”
His family has been raising turkeys on their Northfield farm since the 1950s, and news that the bird flu had been discovered in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa confirmed his worst concerns.

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“The sooner we can stop these little outbreaks before they turn into larger outbreaks, the better for the entire industry,” Zimmerman said.

He was one of the fortunate ones in 2015. Zimmerman was fortunate in that he did not lose any birds during the outbreak, but other Minnesota farmers were not so fortunate. He now hopes that the lessons they gained back then may assist them in saving their flocks.

“For the next month or two, we’re just going to batten down the hatches since the ducks and geese are still flying overhead and the temps are still cool,” Zimmerman said.

He’s taken bio-security precautions, such as wearing protective gear in the barn, and says the birds will remain inside for the time being. The fact that this outbreak has been discovered in backyard poultry flocks is particularly concerning to him.

“This isn’t only a problem for the large players. If you have five to six birds in your backyard, they could be infected, and if they’re permitted to spread the virus, they could infect everyone in their vicinity… A gourmet chicken, a heritage breed, or any other form of fowl can contract the disease and die just like a commercial bird “Zimmerman stated.

Abby Schuft, a University of Minnesota Poultry Extension Educator, has been trying to educate commercial and hobby farmers about the spread of bird flu.

If you have backyard chickens, she recommends keeping visitors to a minimum and keeping their food inside to keep wild birds away. She recommends contacting the Minnesota Board of Animal Health right away if your chickens become silent, stop drinking water, or die unexpectedly.

image source: unsplash

Information on Bird Flu

Infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses causes avian influenza (flu) in birds. More than 100 distinct kinds of wild birds have been found to carry the avian influenza A virus.

These viruses are found in wild aquatic birds all over the world and can infect domestic poultry and other birds and animals. Waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans, gulls, and terns) and shorebirds (storks, plovers, and sandpipers) are examples of wild aquatic birds.

Avian influenza A virus reservoirs (hosts) include wild aquatic species, particularly dabbling ducks. Avian influenza A viruses can be found in the intestines and respiratory tracts of wild aquatic birds, however other species, such as ducks, may not become ill.

Avian influenza A viruses, on the other hand, are highly communicable among birds, and some strains can sicken and even kill farmed birds such as chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

Avian influenza A viruses can be found in the saliva, nasal secretions, and faeces of infected birds. When susceptible birds come into touch with the virus, which is spread by infected birds, they get infected.

They can potentially catch the virus from infected birds by coming into touch with contaminated surfaces.

Avian Influenza in Poultry (Domesticated Birds)

Domesticated birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks, and so on) can contract avian influenza A viruses by coming into direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or by coming into touch with contaminated surfaces.

Domesticated bird avian influenza epidemics are concerning for various reasons:

  • low pathogenic avian influenza A(H5) and A(H7) viruses have the potential to develop into highly pathogenic avian influenza Viruses A(H5) and A(H7) having significant agricultural effects
  • During outbreaks of highly virulent avian influenza, there is a risk of rapid transmission, substantial sickness, and death among chickens.
  • a highly virulent avian influenza outbreak’s economic consequences and trade restrictions
  • the risk of avian influenza A viruses infecting humans who come into contact with infected birds


When avian influenza A(H5) or A(H7) virus outbreaks arise in chicken, afflicted flocks are routinely depopulated (or culed, alsoknown as “stamping out”)

. In addition, the preferred control and eradication approaches are surveillance of flocks that are close or linked to the diseased flock(s) and quarantine of exposed flocks with culling if disease is confirmed. For additional information on avian influenza A virus infections in U.S. poultry, see Past Outbreaks of Avian Influenza. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture has further information on avian influenza in poultry in the United State

Bird Flu Virus Infections in Humans

Although avian (bird) influenza (flu) A viruses usually do not infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection with these viruses. Illness in humans from bird flu virus infections have ranged in severity from no symptoms or mild illness to severe disease that resulted in death. Asian lineage H7N9 and highly pathogenic avian influenza Asian lineage H5N1 viruses have been responsible for most human illness from bird flu viruses worldwide to date, including the most serious illnesses and illness with the highest mortality.

The spread of bird flu viruses from one infected person to a close contact is very rare, and when it has happened, it has only spread to a few people. However, because of the possibility that bird flu viruses could change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, monitoring for human infection and person-to-person spread is extremely important for public health.

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