Avian Influenza

Report Suspected Case to DEM
man wearing gloves looking at chickens

Avian influenza (AI) is a virus that infects wild birds (such as ducks, gulls, and shorebirds) and domestic poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). There are flu virus variants for birds just as there are for humans and, as with people, some forms of the flu are worse than others. All strains also are divided into two groups based upon the ability of the virus to produce disease in poultry: low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

HPAI is a serious poultry disease that spreads very quickly and has a high death rate in chicken and turkeys (around 90%). Since being confirmed in a wild bird in South Carolina on Jan. 13, 2022, HPAI has been detected in wild birds and domestic poultry in more than 20 states including most on the Atlantic Coast and several in the Midwest. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Avian and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is conducting surveillance of all four of the United States’ migratory bird flyways to determine if HPAI is continuing to spread.

Rhode Island is at risk because HPAI has been found in hunter-harvested wild waterfowl reported along the Atlantic Flyway, which is the migratory bird route that includes Rhode Island. There is a possibility that wild birds migrating north this spring from their winter refuges will continue to spread HPAI through the flyways. This is how the virus could be spread to Rhode Island. If the disease is detected in Rhode Island in domestic poultry, affected flocks must be depopulated to prevent the spread of this highly contagious disease to additional flocks and nearby flocks will be tested to ensure that spread has not occurred.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the risk to people from HPAI infections in wild birds to be low because these viruses do not now infect humans easily, and even if a person is infected, the viruses do not spread easily to other people. Avian influenza viruses respond to standard antiviral drugs.

Key Takeaways

Although HPAI can infect people, person-to-person spread has occurred very rarely, mainly in family clusters. Also, no sustained transmission has been noted, according to the CDC. Avian influenza viruses respond to standard antiviral drugs

The United States has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world so that the food supply remains safe. Public health officials continue to pay close attention to note any changes in the pattern of the virus and continue to prohibit the introduction of infected poultry products into the food chain.

We are confident that the coordinated response plan developed will control HPAI should there be a local case confirmed.

If HPAI is detected in Rhode Island and poultry producers and household keepers of backyard chicken coops find dead birds in their flocks, DEM urges owners to wear rubber gloves, dispose of the birds in plastic bags, and call one of the numbers below to discuss disposal options for your situation. Proper composting of dead birds or on-site burial are the preferred methods of disposal but may not be practicable in all cases. Proper disposal is necessary to ensure the dead birds do not serve as a source of contamination for other birds.

Bird owners should contact DEM at 401-222-2781 if they believe there are sick birds in their flocks. To report sick or dying domestic poultry after regular business hours, call 401-222-3070. To report sick or dying wild birds, call DEM’s Division of Fish + Wildlife at 401-789-0281. DEM encourages constituents to complete this online form in all suspected cases of HPAI infection.

Frequently Asked Questions Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) 2022

Since the 2022 HPAI outbreak, there have been two HPAI detections in people. The first positive human test result occurred in the United Kingdom. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed a second human detection in April 2022 in Colorado. The affected individual had direct contact with infected birds. The public health risk associated with these avian influenza (AI) detections remains low and illnesses caused by AI viruses respond to standard antiviral drugs, according to the CDC.

This case occurred in a person who had direct exposure to poultry and was involved in the culling (depopulating) of poultry with presumptive HPAI. The patient reported fatigue for a few days as their only symptom and has since recovered. The patient was treated with the influenza antiviral drug oseltamivir. Read the CDC’s press release.

Human infection with avian influenza (AI) viruses is extremely rare. AI viruses have only been known to infect people who have had a lot of direct contact with the respiratory secretions or droppings of infected birds. AI viruses rarely spread from person to person, mainly in family clusters, and no sustained transmission has been noted, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Avian influenza viruses respond to standard antiviral drugs.

Yes. To protect yourself from AI viruses in general, avoid unnecessary contact with live poultry or wild birds, especially those birds that appear ill. If you work directly with live poultry or wild birds, it is important to practice good hand hygiene methods washing with soap and warm water and rinsing well.

All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, need to continue:

  • Practicing good biosecurity.
  • Taking precautions to reduce the chance of a disease being transported from one place to another, especially by ensuring that viruses and other germs are not carried from an infected location on clothes, shoes, vehicles, or other items.
  • Preventing contact between their birds and wild birds. Direct bird-to-bird contact, whether wild bird to domestic bird, or domestic bird to another domestic bird, continues to be the main route of infection of domestic birds.
  • Reporting sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through the RI State Veterinarian at 401-222-2781 or to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at 508-363-2290. Also, click here and fill out the form to report suspected cases of HPAI infection.

Living near backyard poultry has not resulted in any human infections with any AI viruses anywhere in the United States. To protect yourself from all flu viruses, remember to always practice good hand hygiene. Even in areas without avian influenza, birds may carry other bacteria, viruses, or parasites in their droppings. You should avoid direct contact with bird droppings, if possible, and always wash your hands after contact with bird droppings or surfaces contaminated with bird droppings.

No. DEM and most agriculture regulatory agencies in New England are asking poultry owners to voluntarily postpone shows, exhibitions, and swap meets where birds are traded until July 1.

No. There have not been any cases of avian influenza infection in people acquired from Canada geese in the United States. You should teach your child to always enjoy wildlife from a distance. Not only are there viruses, bacteria (such as Salmonella), and parasites that can spread through their droppings, but approaching them interferes with their normal behavior and can cause conflict between you and them.

No. Hatching chicks in classrooms has not resulted in any human infections with an AI virus. To protect against other diseases that may be spread through contact with poultry (such as salmonellosis), children should be instructed to wash their hands vigorously with soap and water after handling chicks, their cages, or food dishes.

No. Having a backyard feeder has not resulted in any human infections with AI. However, since the droppings of wild birds may contain other bacteria, viruses, or parasites, you should avoid exposure to bird droppings, if possible, and always wash your hands after handling your bird feeder.

Yes. There are no recommendations or prohibitions against hunting, field dressing, or eating game birds in Rhode Island. As a general precaution, hunters are always advised to wear gloves when skinning and preparing any game meat (this includes both birds and mammals) and to cook meat thoroughly before eating it. This USDA link provides guidance on dressing game birds and cooking game meat.

Yes. Most avian influenza viruses that are found in wild ducks and other waterbirds are categorized as low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). LPAIs do not cause obvious illness in infected birds. As long as waterfowl hunters follow the basic safety rules when dressing game birds (USDA link), and game meat is cooked thoroughly (poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165°F to kill disease organisms and parasites), wild game is safe to consume.

Yes. People should never eat birds, wild or domestic, that do not appear healthy at the time they are killed whether by hunting or slaughtering them. People should never eat birds that are found dead. If domestic poultry appear healthy, they are safe to eat after being slaughtered provided they are properly cooked. Poultry products, including ground poultry, should always be cooked to at least 165 °F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers should be refrigerated no more than two hours after cooking. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the product.

Yes.

Infected birds will be prevented from entering the food chain by rapid testing, detection, quarantine, depopulation, and further testing. Infected domestic poultry typically show obvious symptoms of being sick and would not pass inspection before being slaughtered at a processing facility. The death rate of HPAI-infected chickens and turkeys is 90% or higher. Any infected birds will very likely die. Other birds in their flocks will be euthanized to contain the spread of the disease. Birds that are euthanized will be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner so that the carcasses do not pose a source of infection to other susceptible birds. By these measures, DEM and other public health officials will prohibit the introduction of infected poultry products into the food system.

Yes. There have been no documented cases of AI virus infections in humans caused by eating properly cooked poultry products. Poultry products should always be properly handled and cooked to prevent the spread of other illnesses such as Salmonella. Egg yolks should not be runny or liquid. The cooking temperature for poultry meat should be 74°C (165°F).

It is possible that wild birds especially waterfowl (ducks or geese) in RI can be infected with avian influenza viruses. However, wild birds have not generally been shown to pose a risk for human infection. Surveillance programs for the early detection of significant HPAI viruses (those most likely to cause disease in humans) in RI are primarily aimed at screening domestic poultry from live bird markets as well as commercial and backyard flocks and identifying appropriate signs in domestic poultry.

Surveillance for avian influenza viruses in domestic birds in RI is directed by the DEM Division of Agriculture in cooperation with the USDA. DEM has been screening domestic poultry from live bird markets as well as commercial and backyard flocks and exhibition poultry in RI for any avian influenza infection since HPAI became a concern more than 10 years ago.

Surveillance for avian influenza viruses in wild birds in Rhode Island is directed by the DEM Division of Fish + Wildlife (in cooperation with the USDA). State and federal agriculture and wildlife agencies consider waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, as the top priority for testing. Avian influenza usually involves migratory waterfowl (ducks and geese) and shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers) or other waterbirds (herons), but not backyard birds (songbirds).

Surveillance for influenza viruses (human or avian) in humans is conducted by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) in close cooperation with healthcare providers in RI.

For two major reasons. One, AI outbreaks can lead to devastating economic consequences for the poultry industry. Producers might experience a high level of mortality in their flocks. Thus, monitoring and controlling AI at its poultry source is essential to decreasing the virus load in susceptible avian species and the environment and safeguarding the livelihoods of poultry producers. Two, ensuring food security. One reason the Unites States has a safe food supply is because it has the strongest AI surveillance program in the world. The USDA, CDC, DEM, and RIDOH continue to pay close attention to note any changes in the pattern of the virus and to prohibit the introduction of infected poultry products into the food chain.

Avian influenza virus infections do not usually kill wild birds or songbirds. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that any individual dead bird in RI died from an avian influenza virus infection. If it is a songbird, it is much more likely to have died from a window strike or predation by a house cat.

Avian influenza viruses rarely cause disease in wild birds, and it is unlikely that any individual bird may be infected with an avian influenza virus. If you find a sick or injured animal, it is important to locate a licensed rehabilitator (click here for directory of licensed rehabilitators). Licensed rehabilitators can help you determine if an animal really needs help and if it does, may be able to provide care with the goal of appropriate release as a wild animal.

While it is highly unlikely that the dead bird may have been infected with an avian influenza virus, it is generally recommended that you not touch any dead bird, or any other wild animal, with your bare hands. To dispose of a dead bird, use a shovel or garden tool to scoop up the dead bird and put it in a trash bag. Then place that bag into a second bag and place it in your trash. If you must use your hands to put the dead bird in a trash bag, cover them with gloves or plastic bags. After disposing of the bird, wash your hands with soap and warm water. DEM urges Rhode Islanders to fill out this online form in all suspected cases of HPAI infection.

Please report sick, dying, or recently dead waterfowl (ducks and geese), shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers) or other waterbirds (herons) found at any location(s) to DEM at 401-789-7481 or the USDA at 508-363-2290. Also, please use this form to report suspected cases of HPAI infection.

First, do not eat the birds. People should never eat birds, wild or domestic, that do not appear healthy at the time they are killed whether by hunting or slaughtering them. People should never eat birds that are found dead. Although HPAI does not spread from birds to people except in very rare circumstances, we recommend against handling dead birds with bare hands. In general, regardless of the cause of death, we recommend disposing of the bird by wearing personal protective equipment such as nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves and using a shovel to place it into a trash bag for disposal in the trash. If dead backyard chickens are tested for HPAI and found to be positive, they will need to be disposed of by burial or composting. Obviously, the person handling the birds will need to immediately wash hands with warm water and soap after handling.

HPAI is highly contagious and if there is an outbreak in Rhode Island, it is likely to cause deaths in backyard flocks. We realize that in some instances, families regard their chickens as pets and their deaths will likely cause feelings of loss and grief. Please fill out this form and report any sick or dead poultry to the State Veterinarian’s Office at 401-222-2781. After hours, please call 401-222-3070.

Report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to either the RI state veterinarian at 401-222-2781 or to USDA at 508-363-2290 and please fill out this onlineform. If a case is suspected, the site will be immediately quarantined pending lab confirmation; and if it is confirmed, the flock depopulated within 24 hours. A control zone will may be established around the premises and movement restrictions of poultry and poultry products may be in effect. Indemnity for sick birds is available through the USDA. However, prompt reporting is essential, as indemnity will not be paid for dead birds.

HPAI is a very contagious and deadly disease for poultry. All it takes is one infected bird, and the disease can spread from flock to flock within a matter of days. As with any highly contagious animal disease, a quick and early response is our best chance to limit the size and scope of the outbreak. Depopulating affected animals is a key part of the response. It’s one of the most effective ways to stop disease spread and protect US animal overall.

Safety attire is worn and disposed of at the affected site to ensure the virus does not spread to other farms. When an animal is suffering from an imminently fatal disease such as HPAI, emergency euthanasia or depopulation is the most humane course of treatment. All euthanasia or depopulation will be carried out in accordance with American Veterinary Medical Association guidance documents to ensure the procedures are being performed humanely.