Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Provides Guidance Regarding Avian Influenza

This message is for all Pennsylvanians who own poultry and outdoor birds of any kind. A highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) is working its way toward the East Coast due to birds, mostly wild waterfowl, sharing the virus when they come in contact with each other during seasonal migration. The virus does not make the waterfowl ill nor does it make humans ill, but it is proving to be deadly to poultry, including turkeys.

Commercial and backyard poultry have been infected from contact with wild birds in a number of states already and the flocks have experienced very high mortality. To date, this virus (strain H5N2) has affected both commercial and backyard bird flocks in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas. Infected and exposed birds in those flocks, which were not killed by the virus, had to be depopulated in order to stop further spread of disease in the impacted areas.

It is now apparent that the virus is in birds using the Pacific and Mississippi migratory flyways. Since the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways overlap, there is real concern that migratory waterfowl in Pennsylvania may also be carrying this virus. While no virus has yet been detected during waterfowl surveillance testing in Pennsylvania, the testing has not involved a large number of birds. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regards the current situation as being serious enough to recommend precautionary measures are taken now to minimize the threat.

During this time, it is extremely important to keep your poultry away from wild water birds and the water that they use as the virus will also live in that water anywhere from days to weeks. This would include large puddles, small and large ponds, or streams on your property. It is best to keep your birds within a building or a screenedin enclosure which will completely prevent contact with or entrance of wild birds. Because this virus will most likely be circulating in migratory waterfowl for several years, poultry and outdoor birds need be kept in confinement for the foreseeable future.

If you allow outdoor access for organic certification, contact your certifying agency and discuss the risks. For certified poultry technicians, making multiple flock visits, take the necessary precautions to avoid carrying disease into a flock.

If your flock is participating in an AI surveillance program, be sure to get your testing done as required. If you are interested in joining a surveillance program, contact the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services’ (BAHDS) poultry health section at 717-783- 6897 or 717-783- 6677. If you suspect your poultry has been impacted by AI, feel free to call the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717-772- 2852 to report it. The line is available 24-hours- a-day. The department will continue to monitor this situation and will provide continued guidance and outreach.

Submission of Samples for Detection of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)

PADLS recommends submission of the following avian samples to the laboratories for rapid detection of HPAI using PCR:

Source Preferred Specimen* Collection
Gallinaceous poultry (chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail) Tracheal (TR)/oropharyngeal swabs (OP) 1 swab per bird from a single flock and species, maximum of 11 swabs pooled in 1 BHI broth tube
Domestic waterfowl Cloacal (CL) swab 1 swab per bird from a single flock and species, maximum of 5 swabs pooled in 1 BHI broth tube
Wild birds CL and TR/OP swab 1 swab from each site (1 CL and 1 TR/OP) from a single bird pooled in 1 BHI broth tube

*Polyester (Dacron), rayon or other inert swabs must be used. Do not use cotton or calcium alginate swabs or swabs with wooden shafts.

Media (5.5 mL) and swabs are available from the laboratories. After sample collection, swabs should be immersed in media, swirled, squeezed on the upper inside walls of tube, and then discarded as a biohazard waste. Dry swabs are not accepted. If leaving swabs in the tube, no more than 5 swabs per tube are acceptable. All swab tips must be completely immersed in the medium.

Laboratory Submission:

  • Please complete ALL sections of the Avian Submission form
  • Required information includes:
    • Owner and Sample collector – name, address, telephone, fax, email
    • Premise ID and address
    • Collection and submission dates
    • Production type (backyard, commercial, etc.) and number(s) of birds on premises
    • Species and age
    • Sample type (CL and/or TR/OP)

For questions or to discuss on-farm mortality issues, please contact either the laboratories (contact information above) or the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Health at 717-772-2852.


Recent Avian Influenza (AI) outbreaks in Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas make the disease threat much closer to the East Coast. Biosecurity is the greatest way to ensure your farm and poultry are safeguarded against disease.
Practicing biosecurity means you are doing everything to reduce the chances of infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles. This also means you are being diligent to reduce the chance of disease leaving your farm. Healthy flocks contribute to the health of U.S. animal agriculture as a whole.

An important first step is to identify the greatest risks for introducing disease to your farm.

Greatest Risks:

  1. On the farm, one of the greatest risks comes from introducing new animals onto your premise, commingling or exposing your flock to other animals. This is a common way to introduce new disease-causing organisms. As a rule of thumb, new animals should be segregated for 30 days.
  2. Farm visitors pose a risk, especially if they have been on other farms with poultry or have recently been in other countries with diseases exotic to the U.S.
  3. Farm equipment that has been in contact with manure can be a source of infection. Equipment should not be shared with other farms unless it has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before it reaches your property.

Common Sense Biosecurity Measures You Can Follow:

Protect your birds with basic tips to prevent animal disease outbreaks:

  1. Keep Your Distance - Restrict access to your property and poultry, or post a biosecurity sign. Have a specific area where visitors can enter. Visitors should not be allowed near poultry unless absolutely necessary, and then visitors should be wearing clean footwear (disposable boots work well) and clothes (supply for them). An area should be available for visitors to change clothes and provide shower-in, shower-out facilities if possible. Require and teach biosecurity to family, employees, and all visitors coming into, or involved with your poultry production area.
  2. Keep It Clean - You, your staff and family should always follow biosecurity procedures for cleanliness. Wear clean clothes, scrub boots/shoes with disinfectant and wash hands thoroughly. Equipment and vehicles should be kept clean and insist all equipment and vehicles should be cleaned before entering property. Maintain programs to control birds and rodents who can carry and spread disease.
  3. Don't Haul Disease Home - If you, your employees or family have been on other farms, or other places where there is livestock and/or poultry, clean and disinfect your vehicle tires and equipment before returning home. Always change clothes and wash hands before returning to your flock.
  4. Don't Borrow Disease From Your Neighbor - Do Not share equipment, tools, or other supplies with your neighbors of other livestock or poultry owners. If sharing equipment, be sure to clean and disinfect before returning to your property.
  5. Look for Signs of Infectious Diseases - Know what diseases are of concern for your flock and be on the lookout for unusual signs of behavior, severe illness and/or sudden deaths. Assess the health of your flock daily. Early detection is important to prevent the spread of disease.
  6. Report Sick Animals - Don't wait. Report serious or unusual animal health problems to your veterinarian, local extension office, or State or Federal Animal Health officials. USDA operates a toll-free hotline (1-866-536-7593) with veterinarians to help you.

Precautions for Free Range Poultry

Poultry producers who raise birds in outdoor, non-confinement systems should prevent contact with wild birds and wild bird droppings. Protective measures include:

  1. Identify high risk areas, including wetlands along migratory flyways or other areas where wild waterfowl or shorebirds congregate, and high density poultry production areas.
  2. Implement preventive measures for high-risk areas:
    1. Keep birds indoors.
    2. Restrict outside open access by maintaining outdoor enclosures covered with solid roofs and wire mesh or netted sides.
    3. Keep outdoor enclosures covered with wire mesh or netting in lower risk areas.
    4. Provide feed and water for all non-confinement-raised poultry in an indoor area. Birds should not be allowed access to surface water that could potentially transmit AI or other avian pathogens through contamination with wild bird excrement.

Look for Signs of Disease

It is important for producers to know the warning signs of diseases such as avian influenza (AI). If you know the signs, you may be able to tell if something is wrong. Early detection helps prevent the spread of disease. Look for these signs:

  1. Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  2. Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and/or runny nose
  3. Watery and green diarrhea
  4. Lack of energy and poor appetite
  5. Drop in egg production or soft or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs
  6. Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head
  7. Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs

If you suspect your birds may have AI, don't wait - Report It! The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) has a 24-hours-a-day number you can call to report: 717-772-2852.

(Source: USDA APHIS website)