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Avian influenza outbreak infects wild birds, commercial poultry and backyard flocks

A rooster and a hen in front of a wire mesh fence. Other birds are in the background.
ilri/apollo habtamu
Avian influenza affects Utah's commercial poultry as well as backyard flocks.

Avian influenza has killed large numbers of wild birds and poultry this year. David Frame, veterinarian and USU extension poultry specialist, said this outbreak has been especially deadly.

“We have had some exotic strains of influenza in the past, but nothing that has been this devastating to the industry. And the reason is because it kills, and kills the birds very quickly,” Frame said.

While birds infected with avian influenza may present with nasal discharge or other symptoms, Frame said the most consistent effect is death.

“The thing that bird owners are going to notice more than anything else is they go out, and if they've got 20 birds, there may be five of them dead today, and then all of them but one or two might be dead the next day,” Frame said.

Frame said influenza can spread to poultry by direct contact with wild birds or via contaminated surfaces.

“The big thing with influenza is that it's tracked very easily. And so people can track it around," he explained. "That virus is very, very infectious. It doesn't take much, just … the litter on a head of a pin is enough to easily infect another 20,000-bird flock. And that’s the main situation. … Biosecurity — in other words, keeping things in and keeping things out — is really what’s playing a role in a lot of these commercial outbreaks,” Frame said.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Frame said bird owners and commercial poultry workers should be careful about cleaning their boots, hands and equipment before and after entering a bird area.

Store-bought poultry products are USDA-inspected and safe to eat, Frame said, and transmission of avian influenza to humans from hunting game birds is unlikely. The risk to humans is low, as only one case of this strain infecting a person has been confirmed in the United States.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.