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Have backyard chickens? Here's what you need to know about bird flu

Two chickens in a backyard coop.
Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed bird flu in three domestic chicken flocks in Idaho. Two flocks in Gooding County and one in Caribou County have tested positive in the past week.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a contagious viral disease that often leads to dead chickens. Human infections from bird flu are possible but rare.

Domestic poultry are particularly susceptible, said Dr. Scott Leibsle, the Idaho state veterinarian, in part because the state doesn't have a good way to notify everyone who keeps birds in their backyard.

Liebsle said the best way to protect your flock is to limit contact with wild waterfowl. Geese and ducks often carry influenza as they migrate, including through Idaho in the Pacific Flyway.

“If your backyard birds are kind of free-ranging and have a little bit more area to roam around that would give them the opportunity to interact with wild waterfowl, try to limit that,” Leibsle said.

If you live near ponds or streams where the birds take off from or land, that could be an infection source, Leibsle said, because that’s often when they drop the fecal matter.

If you buy new birds, isolate them from your existing flock for two weeks. Positive flocks need to be depopulated.

In terms of symptoms, Leibsle said occasionally infected chickens will show signs of a respiratory virus, like swollen heads or nasal discharge, though not always.

“Unfortunately, the most common symptom of your birds being infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza is you coming out and there being dead birds — they often don’t show any symptoms that they’re sick," he said.

Above all, make sure to wash your hands and your boots, Leibsle said, and try to limit the number of people who come into contact with your birds.

ISDA posts updated information on positive flock confirmations in Idaho.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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