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What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza is a contagious viral disease affecting the
respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system.
Avian influenza virus infection can occur in most, if not all, species
of birds, both domestic and wild....and can, but less commonly, infect
mammals. While all bird species are thought to be susceptible to
infection, domestic poultry flocks are especially vulnerable to
infections that can rapidly turn into epidemics.
Wild birds may carry influenza viruses without becoming ill due
to natural resistance. Wild waterfowl present a natural reservoir
for these viruses and can be responsible for the primary
introduction of infection into domestic poultry.
Avian influenza viruses (of which there are 15 types) infect wild
bird populations, particularly water birds, typically without
causing symptoms. The virus spreads through bird feces and
contaminated water or dust. When avian influenza spreads to
poultry or other birds, it can cause more severe disease.
Outbreaks of avian influenza have been recognised in poultry
flocks in most countries of the world for many years.
Influenza infections in birds are divided in two groups on the
basis of their ability to cause disease:
* Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) causing serious disease
with high mortality
* Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) causing in general a mild
Free-living birds may carry influenza viruses without becoming
ill due to a natural resistance.
Signs of Avian Influenza
Clinical signs, if present, may include depression, anorexia
(loss of appetite), dyspnea (labored breathing), swelling of the
head, ocular discharge and diarrhea. Some infected birds may be
asymptomatic and recover, while others may die suddenly, without
showing signs of illness. Very pathogenic strains may cause
The clinical signs of birds affected with all forms of AI may
show one or more of the following:
* 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
Is avian influenza transmissible to humans?
People have contracted avian flu and limited, inefficient
human-to-human transmission is suspected in some cases. To date,
the avian influenza viruses that have caused illness in people
include the H5N1, H7N7, H7N3 and H9N2 subtypes, with H5N1
associated with the most serious illness in humans.
The USDA and Avian Influenza
USDA requires that imported birds (poultry, pet birds, birds
exhibited at zoos, and ratites) be quarantined and tested for the
avian influenza virus before entering the country. This
precaution is taken to prevent foreign strains of AI from being
introduced in the United States.
What should you do if your birds appear to have signs of AI?
Report Sick Birds! If your birds show signs of AI or may have
been exposed to birds with the disease, you should notify Federal
or State animal health officials or call 1-866-536-7593
(toll-free) or your local agricultural extension agent.
Your Pet Bird & How the
Air It Breathes Affects It's Health