Are Your Chickens at Risk? Signs Your Birds Have Avian Flu

sergey [email protected]

Most of us have likely heard of bird flu. We also likely assume that this isn’t something we have to be overly concerned about. However, recent and growing cases now prove otherwise.

If you haven’t heard, bird flu, also known as avian influenza and H5N1, has been picked up in a growing number of states – and not just by birds or poultry. Formerly, the disease was known to affect mainly chickens. Particularly were those who lived and were raised on chicken or egg farms.

But now, it seems the disease has spread to cows and even people.

As The Associated Press reported in late March, milk from dairy cows in both Texas and Kansas had tested positive for bird flu.

Then, a week later, a Texas Cal-Maine Foods plant – the largest producer of fresh eggs in the US – announced they were halting production after the virus was discovered in their chicken population. The AP noted that the company had to cull about 3.6 percent of its flock as a result.

And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, a human was found with the disease. Also, in Texas, it appears they contracted it from dairy cows, possibly from consuming raw milk products. It is the first case of bird flu worldwide to have infected a person.

Now, the good news is that contracting bird flu as a human is pretty rare. First, most of us don’t have daily contact with dairy cows.
Secondly, most of us also don’t consume raw dairy products. For the large majority, our milk and cheeses are pasteurized, which the FDA has assessed “effectively inactivates” the virus.

And lastly, commercial milk, egg, chicken, etc. farms have become rather good at testing all their products before they hit the shelves, making it highly unlikely that you should contract anything from them.

But what about your chickens?

If you live in a rural area, as I do, about every other house or so has a flock of its own. And for those that don’t, they often receive fresh eggs from their neighbors on a regular basis rather than buying them at the grocery.

And unfortunately, as USA Today wrote on Wednesday, “At-home chickens are far from safe.”

So, here’s what you need to watch out for:

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

Now, to be clear, one or even a few of these symptoms don’t mean your chickens have avian flu. Egg production, for one, slows now and then for a number of reasons.

Neither does it mean you are in danger of getting it. Even the FDA and CDC admit there should be no imminent cause for concern.
However, it is wise to take certain precautions. You know, obvious things like not handling chickens with these symptoms, not eating raw eggs, not consuming raw milk products, and wearing personal protection equipment when handling the birds or cleaning their pens are a must.

It’s also wise to keep any and all other animals, including pets, away from your birds, particularly if you think they may have contracted the disease. And, of course, don’t feed your animals raw milk products.