Questions and Answers about Avian Influenza

Biosecurity and producer awareness are top issues

March 18, 2022, 12:52 pm | Yuko Sato, Mohamed El-Gazzar

AMES, Iowa – Avian influenza continues to be confirmed across Iowa and the nation. Here are some common questions and answers from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach that can help inform consumers, bird owners and poultry producers.

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is an infectious virus that affects wild birds and domestic poultry caused by a type A influenza virus in a family of viruses called Orthomyxovirus. There are two groups of viruses based on its ability to cause disease in domestic poultry: low pathogenic avian influenza, which usually causes only mild illness and can be present in chickens, turkeys and other gallinaceous birds without showing any signs; and high pathogenic avian influenza, which spreads rapidly causing severe disease and high death rate in chickens and turkeys. Wild birds carry both types of AI and can act as a source of infection to domestic poultry. This risk is particularly high during the migration season in fall and spring. The AI we are concerned about is HPAI. Woman caring for poultry, by JackF/

What are some signs people should watch out for that would indicate avian influenza?

Since avian influenza is a respiratory virus, it can cause symptoms like coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge and swollen sinuses; but a red flag would be a sudden increase in death rate and especially if you don’t have a good reason for why the bird(s) died. Other signs to look for include diarrhea, neurologic issues like depressed and lethargic birds, huddling birds, drop in feed and water consumption, and drop in egg production.

Are poultry products safe to eat?

HPAI detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern and poultry products are safe to eat. There is a lot of information about “bird flu” and that people can get sick from eating poultry products but that is not true! HPAI does not disseminate in poultry products and affected birds do not make it to the food supply chain. Cooking eggs and poultry products will kill any potentially harmful things such as salmonella.

How is avian influenza spread?

AI is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds, and through indirect contact with contaminated equipment and materials, such as boots, clothing, cars and anything that has contact with infected birds. The virus is shed through infected birds’ feces and secretions from the nose, mouth and eyes. The easiest way to describe it is thinking that this is like the flu in people or COVID-19. 

If folks suspect they may have avian influenza on their farm or in their backyard flock, what should they do?

If you suspect HPAI you must contact the state veterinarian or USDA before taking any further actions. There is a HPAI Tool kit provided by the Iowa Poultry Association in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Ag that has all these numbers.

  • During Office Hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.): IDALS Reporting Line: 515-281-5305, USDA Reporting Line: 515-284-4140
  • After Hours: Jeff Kaisand: 515-240-6632; Kevin Petersburg: 515-669-6043.

The other important part is to isolate and quarantine your flock to limit the spread of potential disease.

Poultry, by cratervalley/stock.adobe.comHow can we prevent the spread of foreign diseases, such as avian influenza?

Poultry and small flock owners should strengthen their biosecurity practices to keep the outside out, and keep the inside in. And in the event you find dead birds on your farm or your backyard flock, or if you see signs that look like HPAI, don’t wait to call! Early detection is key in controlling an outbreak and preventing it from spreading to other poultry.

Good biosecurity is something we should practice all the time. What does good biosecurity look like?

Good biosecurity needs people to run it and a plan, and it has to make sense to you. It could be anything from limiting foot traffic on you farm, having a change of boots and clothing to chore birds, not borrowing tools and equipment from your neighbors, preventing any contact, direct or indirect with wild birds, and making sure to take a shower and wash hands after being exposed to other birds that are not yours, especially if you go out hunting.

A good trick to remember is T-I-P-S, which stands for Traffic control, Isolation, Pest control, and Sanitation.

Where can I go for more information about HPAI?

Where can I go to learn more about biosecurity?

Center for Food Security and Public Health


Contributors: Information prepared by Yuko Sato, associate professor in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and extension poultry veterinarian at Iowa State University; and Mohamed El-Gazzar, poultry diagnostician and outreach veterinarian at Iowa State.


Photo Credits: 1. Poultry, by cratervalley/ 2. Woman caring for poultry, by JackF/


About the Authors: