Poultry Avian Influenza - Backyard chicken keeper's guide

Avian Influenza in Poultry 

Do you live in Victoria? Are you worried about avian influenza affecting your backyard chickens?

Learn how to recognise the symptoms of avian influenza and how to prevent avian influenza in poultry. It is easy for backyard chicken keepers to protect their birds from avian influenza.

Symptoms of Avian Influenza in Poultry

In many cases, the symptoms of avian influenza in backyard chickens and other birds are mild. Sometimes, you won’t even know there is anything wrong with your birds. However, some strains of the virus are considered more severe.

The symptoms of avian influenza in chickens can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulties
  • A swollen head
  • Purple discolouration of the head and neck, including the comb and wattles
  • Decreased egg production
  • Sudden decrease in food and/or water consumption
  • Puffed feathers
  • Lethargy
  • Death

Treating Avian Influenza in Chickens

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for avian influenza in chickens.

However, avian influenza is a notifiable illness in Australia. If you suspect that your chickens have avian influenza, you are legally obligated to notify the government. 

Call the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 if you suspect a case of avian influenza.

Notifying the government is essential to controlling the disease. If the outbreak is stopped early, it protects the lives of people as well as birds. When the virus can’t be quickly controlled, all of the chickens in an outbreak hotspot, including backyard flocks, could be culled.

How Do Chickens Get Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza generally spreads through droppings, although it can also spread through feathers, saliva and close contact with other birds.

Chickens most commonly get avian influenza from wild birds. Waterfowl, in particular, are known to be reservoirs for the disease. Wild birds with avian influenza often have no symptoms at all.

If your chickens free-range, they are likely to have contact with the faeces of wild birds that may be carrying the disease. Alternatively, if your coop is not well-designed, wild birds might use the feeder or drinker, spreading disease that way.

Introducing new chickens to your flock and using second-hand or contaminated equipment also pose a risk. So do visitors who may have had contact with other birds.

How to Prevent Avian Influenza in Backyard Chickens

The most important thing you can do to protect your chickens from avian influenza is prevent interaction with wild birds. Practicing good biosecurity is also important.

You can prevent your birds coming into contact with avian influenza by:

  • Securing your coop against wild birds
  • Ensuring wild birds don’t share your chickens’ feeder or drinker
  • Only feeding small amounts of scraps in a dish in the coop, so uneaten food doesn’t attract wild visitors
  • Netting your chicken run
  • Disinfecting the coop regularly
  • Disinfecting any equipment that is shared between flocks or is second hand
  • Ensuring visitors to your coop haven’t had contact with other birds
  • Quarantining new birds before introducing them to your flock

How Dangerous is Avian Influenza?

Although avian influenza has been known to spread from birds to humans, it only does so rarely. Most strains of avian influenza, including those recently identified in Victoria, do not easily pass to humans. In most cases, avian influenza causes only mild symptoms in people.

In order to contract avian influenza a bird, you must have very close contact with an infected bird or fail to follow good hygiene such as washing your hands etc. You must also have very close contact to get avian influenza from an infected human.

Although there is a possibility that avian influenza might mutate and become more contagious to humans, this is unlikely. All recorded outbreaks of avian influenza in Australia have been successfully contained and eradicated. However, an outbreak that is not controlled could cause billions of dollars of damage to industry and cause the unnecessary deaths of many thousands of birds.

How to Keep your Family Safe from Avian Influenza

The easiest way to keep your family safe from avian influenza is to have good chicken coop hygiene.

These are the same practices you use to protect yourself from all chicken illnesses. They seem like common sense, but you’d be amazed how often people forget to do them!

Wash your hands after handling birds or eggs. Never bring birds in the house. Avoid close contact with sick birds. Cook chicken meat and eggs.

Practicing good biosecurity and reporting any symptoms in your flock is also key.

Disinfecting your chicken coop when you clean it is also an effective way to prevent avian influenza in your flock, helping to protect your family.

For more advice on keeping yourself and your family safe from Avian Influenza by practicing good biosecurity, click here.

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael - Dine a Chook Australia

You may also be interested in these articles: