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Contact: Dan Shortridge, Delaware Department of Agriculture, 302-698-4520, or Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

Precautions, vigilance urged for avian influenza

DOVER (Dec. 24, 2014) – Delaware authorities are urging poultry and bird owners to be vigilant in the wake of avian influenza cases reported in Oregon and Washington state.

“Though it’s far away at the moment, we know that avian influenza can spread rapidly,” said Delaware State Veterinarian Dr. Heather Hirst, who heads the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Poultry and Animal Health Section. “Poultry growers and owners of backyard flocks can do their part by taking proper biosecurity precautions to prevent against the spread of the disease.”

There are no immediate public health concerns due to the West Coast cases, and avian influenza does not affect poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat. Delaware’s commercial poultry industry has a strong and active avian influenza surveillance program, and works in close contact with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, the University of Delaware, and other partners.

Avian influenza spreads bird-to-bird through saliva, feces and other bodily fluids. Since many species of wild waterfowl can carry and shed influenza virus in feces without showing any signs of illness, it is extremely important to make a strong effort to keep domestic birds separated from wild waterfowl and to keep domestic birds off waterways where wild waterbirds live. 

“Low pathogenic forms of avian influenza naturally occur in wild birds such as waterfowl, shorebirds and gulls, and in most cases cause no signs of infection or only mild symptoms,” said Rob Hossler, Wildlife Administrator for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. “However, when domestic species and wildlife intermix, occasionally a high pathogenic form can develop which can cause increased mortality to one or both of the groups.”

While the Washington and Oregon strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has not been found in commercial poultry in the United States, Hirst said its detection in a backyard poultry flock and captive gyrfalcons on the West Coast makes monitoring of backyard flocks and other birds extremely important.

“All bird or poultry owners can implement basic biosecurity steps to keep their flocks healthy and safe,” Hirst said. “Reporting sick or dead birds is especially critical to keeping avian influenza from spreading.”

Biosecurity measures recommended by the Delaware Department of Agriculture include isolating birds from visitor and other birds; keeping shoes, tools, equipment, vehicles and cages clean when entering areas where birds live; avoiding tracking wild waterfowl feces into domestic bird living areas; avoiding sharing equipment and tools with neighbors; watching for warning signs of disease; and reporting sick or dead 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, 302-698-4500 or 800-282-8685 (Delaware only). To report groups of dead or sick waterfowl, shorebirds or gulls, contact DNREC's Wildlife Section – Wildlife Disease Program, 302-735-3600.

For more information on backyard bird flock biosecurity, visit

Vol. 44, No. 436

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