Poultry Producers: Be on the Lookout for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

Poultry Producers: Be on the Lookout for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza


Poultry Producers: Be on the Lookout for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

What is Avian Influenza (AI)?

Avian Influenza is a highly contagious poultry virus that has the potential to cause large financial losses to the U.S. poultry industry. A highly pathogenic strain (HPAI), H5N1, last hit the U.S. in 2014-2015 and was considered the nation’s largest animal health emergency. Over 200 cases of the disease were found in commercial flocks, backyard flocks, and wild birds. More than 50 million birds were affected and subsequently died or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states.

Where does it come from?

Waterfowl, both wild and domestic, act as carriers. Since the outbreak of 2014-2015, scientists have been monitoring wild bird populations, and waterfowl hunters send their harvested birds in for testing. Wild waterfowl regularly carry low-pathogenic strains of the virus, but it can easily mutate to a highly pathogenic strain, as we’ve seen this year.

If it’s been mainly identified in wild birds, and it’s not yet in NYS, why should I be concerned?

Wild birds follow one of four migratory routes. NYS is located in the Atlantic Flyway, which includes the states with current HPAI findings. It is anticipated that as birds migrate north in the spring, we’ll continue to see the cases in wild birds move with them. It also means that there is an increased potential for the virus to establish in poultry flocks along this route.

How does it spread?

HPAI lives in the respiratory and/or intestinal tract of birds. It can be picked up from contact with infected feces, surfaces, or through the air, though ariel transmission from farm to farm is unlikely. It can be transported on infected feed, clothing, or equipment. Once on the farm, the disease is readily passed from bird to bird, infecting an entire flock quickly.

Which flocks are affected?

Flocks of any size, from backyard to commercial, and any species can be affected.

Common symptoms:

Any birds can be affected, but birds other than waterfowl react most strongly to the virus. Poultry infected with HPAI may show one or more of the following symptoms:

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

A high level of mortality without any clinical signs is known to be a hallmark of the virus. In some cases, expect 100% of the flock to die within a few days. Regardless of how the disease presents, a large portion of the birds in a flock will be affected. Waterfowl may carry the virus but not show symptoms.

What do I do if I think I have HPAI in my flock?

Report it! If your birds are sick or dying, it's important to report it immediately so that we can stop the spread to any other flocks. You can call:

What can I do to manage it?

Because there is not a vaccine currently available in the U.S. for this disease, keeping it out through biosecurity is going to be the best course of action. The easy-to-follow biosecurity principles below can go a long way to keeping your birds safe from disease:

  • Establishing an "all-in, all-out" flock-management policy
  • Protecting against exposure to wild birds or water or ground contaminated by wild birds
  • Closing bird areas to nonessential personnel or vehicles
  • Providing employees with clean clothing and disinfection facilities and directions for their use
  • Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) when entering or leaving the farm
  • Banning the borrowing or lending of equipment or vehicles
  • Banning visits to other poultry farms, exhibitions, fairs, and sales or swap meets (if visits must occur, direct workers to change footwear and clothing on their return)
  • Banning bringing birds in slaughter channels back to the farm

Avian Influenza and Poultry Composting

CWMI, in contract with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, assisted in the development and dissemination of educational materials for a composting component of a state emergency response plan for avian influenza. These materials can be used for routine mortality as well. 

The Role of the Cornell Waste Management Institute in the Emergency Response Plan for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in New York State

  • Natural Rendering: Composting Poultry Mortality. A 12p illustrated fact sheet. 2008.
  • A 6-minute video of the same title is available for downloading. Click here. 2008.
  • Illustrated poster, PDF or Powerpoint (11x17). 2008
  • A literature review of Avian Influenza and methods of disposal of affected poultry. 2008.
  • Emergency Response Planning for Disposal of Avian Influenza Affected Birds in NYS. Proceedings from the 3rd International Symposium: Management of Animal Carcasses, Tissue and Related Byproducts. 2009.
  • Mortality Management Options During an Avian Influenza Outbreak. This 70-min. webcast provides a curent update of the outbreak and highlights mortality management options. View here. October 2015.

Additional mortality composting resources can be found here.

Contributed by CCE Livestock Specialist Amy Barkley. Additional information can be found in this fact sheet from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and on the USDA website. If you have any questions about this disease, please contact Amy Barkley at (716) 640-0844 or amb544@cornell.edu. The information used to create this article is shared by the United States Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).

New York Extension Disaster Education Network (NY EDEN) is a collaborative educational network based at Cornell University and dedicated to educating New York residents about preventing, preparing for and recovering from emergencies and disasters. NY EDEN is working with New York State Agriculture and Markets to provide resources and updates to poultry producers.

Other Resources

HPAI Frequently Asked Questions updated 1/27/2023  

CCE Podcast on HPAI

New York State Poultry - a Department of Agriculture and Markets page that contains laws and regulations, forms, health programs, and other miscellaneous resources on poultry

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: Poultry - a poultry page with publications and resources on feeding, health, marketing, etc.; provides high value information and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, educators, and others involved in sustainable agriculture in the United States

NYS 4-H Youth Poultry Programs - provides children and teens with poultry related events, activities and resources


Michele Ledoux
Executive Director
(315) 376-5270

Last updated May 16, 2023