Stay up-to-date on the current highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) situation in Delaware. More Info

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Delaware Department of
Agriculture

Delaware Avian Influenza Information Center



Young chickens in a poultry house drinking water

Avian influenza (AI) is a serious disease concern for poultry producers and animal health officials. While influenza strains in birds, just as in people, vary considerably in severity, some influenza viruses can be devastating to domestic poultry. The Delaware Department of Agriculture, with the help of the University of Delaware laboratory system, performs active surveillance and testing of birds for avian influenza within the state every single day. Surveillance is conducted at commercial poultry operations, exhibition and backyard flocks, and at livestock and poultry auctions. Testing for AI is performed in order to allow for early detection and elimination of the virus if it is found.

If you have sick or dead birds, call 302-698-4507. The staff at the Delaware Department of Agriculture can make sure your birds get tested so you know why they are sick.

Frequently Asked Questions on Avian Influenza


General Public


Avian influenza, or “bird flu,” is a virus that infects domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkey, quail, and geese, and wild birds such as raptors, shorebirds and waterfowl. There are no human health concerns from the strains of avian influenza that have been reported in the United States.

Avian influenza is a serious disease concern for poultry producers and animal health officials. While influenza strains in birds, just as in people, vary considerably in severity, some influenza viruses can be devastating to domestic poultry.

There is currently minimal risk to public health as there have been no human cases of HPAI in the United States. Please refer to the current CDC webpage for information about humans contracting avian influenza.

Avian influenza does not affect the food safety of poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat. Consumers should be fully confident that their chicken and eggs are safe to eat if properly prepared. That means cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, and washing preparation surfaces, utensils, and hands – just like when your family cooks chicken every day. We can guarantee that no flock moves into the human food supply without being tested for avian influenza.

Generally, we know that avian influenza can be transmitted by wild birds or waterfowl. Our family farmers take biosecurity steps every day to keep their flocks healthy and safe. The virus can be transmitted on shoes, vehicles, or equipment, which is why we are asking everyone with poultry to take the proper precautions and use strict biosecurity protocols.
We have dealt successfully with avian influenza before, in 2004 with a case of low-pathogenic avian influenza. Two farms were affected in Delaware and one in Maryland.
Delaware has approximately 700 commercial poultry farms, with up to 50 million chickens being raised in the state at any given time. Our family farms raise more than 240 million broiler chickens each year. Several thousand families depend upon poultry for work in processing and other fields. The direct impact is $1.7 billion, with the total economic contribution estimated at $3.3 billion (U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, 2016). We understand there will be concern about the impact on individual family farms and on the sector in general, which is why we are prepared to act quickly and decisively to control its spread and eradicate the virus if it is found in Delaware.
Our primary goal is to prevent the virus from spreading by maintaining tight controls and using effective biosecurity practices. If Delaware does have a case, we will not disclose the location or identity of the farm to prevent the disease from spreading to other farms with poultry. We do not want to have people visiting or driving by that location and potentially tracking the avian influenza virus to another location and spreading it even wider.

Poultry Producers


Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI): Most AI strains are classified as low pathogenicity and cause few clinical signs in infected birds. LPAI generally does not pose a significant health threat to humans; however, LPAI is monitored because two strains of LPAI – the H5 and H7 strains – can mutate into highly pathogenic forms. There are few clinical signs, but they include mild respiratory disease (coughing and sneezing) and decreased egg production.

High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI): This is a more pathogenic type of avian influenza that is frequently fatal to birds and easily transmissible between susceptible species. Clinical signs include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production
  • Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing, sneezing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea

For images of avian influenza clinical signs, visit the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The virus is shed in fecal droppings, saliva, and nasal discharge of some avian wildlife species and infected domestic poultry.

Symptoms of avian influenza in poultry include:

  • Sudden death without other clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Swelling of the heat, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Torticollis / twisted neck

If you have sick or dead birds, call 302-698-4507. The staff at the Delaware Department of Agriculture can make sure your birds get tested so you know why they are sick.

Basic biosecurity steps include:

  • Limit, monitor, and record any movement of people, vehicles, or animals on or off your farm.
  • Permit only essential workers and vehicles to enter the farm to limit the chances of bringing the virus from an outside source.
  • Avoid visiting other poultry farms.
  • Disinfect equipment, vehicles, footwear, and other items that come in contact with flocks.
  • Keep your flock away from wild or migratory birds, especially waterfowl.
  • Isolate any ill animals and contact your veterinarian.
Surveillance and Testing
The Delaware Department of Agriculture with the help of the University of Delaware laboratory system performs active surveillance and testing of birds for avian influenza within the state every single day. Surveillance is conducted at commercial poultry operations, exhibition and backyard flocks, and at livestock and poultry auctions. Testing for AI is performed in order to allow for early detection and elimination of the virus if it is found.

If you have sick or dead birds, call 302-698-4507 or 800-282-8685 (Delaware only). The staff at the Delaware Department of Agriculture can make sure your birds get tested so you know why they are sick.

Promoting Biosecurity
The Department of Agriculture is actively promoting biosecurity through education and outreach to poultry owners in the state. Register your flock by completing the Poultry Registration Form (English) or Poultry Registration Form (Spanish) if you wish to receive mailings from the Delaware Department of Agriculture about disease alerts. See links below for biosecurity that you can use on your farm.

If you are a backyard flock owner and have not registered your flock, complete the Poultry Registration Form (English) or Poultry Registration Form (Spanish)

Domestic Birds:
Sick or dead domestic birds, including backyard flocks and commercial poultry, should be reported to the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Poultry and Animal Health Section, 302-698-4507 or 800-282-8685 (Delaware only). You can also contact the Department if you need additional information on biosecurity measures you can take to prevent disease in your flock. After hours, contact 302-233-1480.

Wild Birds:
To report groups of dead or sick waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, or gulls, contact DNREC’s Wildlife Section – Wildlife Disease Program, 302-735-3600.

There are vaccines available, but any use of these products must be approved by state and federal agencies.
Every commercial flock in Delaware is tested for avian influenza before it moves into the human food supply. Testing is done through collaboration with the University of Delaware’s Laboratory System. Samples that are found to be non-negative at the University of Delaware Laboratory are sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa for confirmation.
A control area will be established around an affected farm; there will be little impact to non-farmers who live in the area. Movement of poultry and supply trucks (e.g., feed, hatchery trucks, fuel deliveries) to or from farms will be restricted and subject to permitting. Flocks in the control area will undergo additional testing, carry out biosecurity checklists, and have state-issued permits to move birds.
Because the bird flu can be very deadly in poultry, all bird flocks on an affected farm are likely to be depopulated under federal and state policy to prevent the avian influenza virus from spreading. This is an unfortunate but necessary measure when we are dealing with catastrophic diseases like HPAI. This process is carried out using approved veterinary protocols. All methods are carried out with guidance from USDA, State animal health officials, and poultry veterinarians.
After the flocks are depopulated, the carcasses will be composted. For broiler chickens, they will be composted in the poultry house itself. Composting is the method used for normal poultry mortality, though on a smaller scale. Like any composting, this process will raise the heat to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for sufficient time to kill the virus. Once the compost has been sufficiently heated, it can be removed from the house and disposed of in a variety of ways. One common way may be to be spread on farm fields if regulations permit. There should be no concern that the compost will carry the virus. The poultry houses then undergo an extensive and lengthy cleaning, decontamination, and testing process. Only when they are declared virus-free and have obtained permission from USDA and state animal health officials will new birds be permitted back in.
There are about 1,000 backyard flocks registered in Delaware as required by state law. Anyone with one or more chickens or other poultry species must be registered with the Department of Agriculture. The database was instituted about a decade ago; we work to keep it updated and notify new poultry owners as soon as we are aware of them.

Register your flock by completing the Poultry Registration Form (English) or Poultry Registration Form (Spanish)

 


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