USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) claims to have the most robust avian influenza surveillance program in the world. The past 30 days have put that surveillance system to the test as highly pathogenic Avian Influenza has been found in scattered locations around the United States in backyard flocks and sizeable commercial poultry operations.

And APHIS has opted to up its game.

These 2022 outbreaks are still far from those experienced in 2014-15 when APHIS oversaw the destruction of 51 million birds to control the spread of H5N2 avian Flu in the U.S.

Nor, however, is it possible to say that the bird kill record is safe.

Since the return of bird flu to the United States, APHIS has expanded its wild bird surveillance for bird flu to the Mississippi and Central Flyways. The existing surveillance for Atlantic and Pacific Flyways was also raised.

It means the APHIS National Wildlife Disease Program, which collects 15,500 samples from birds in 25 states, is adding another 14,500 samples from the Mississippi and Central areas.

“Collecting surveillance sampling in all four Flyways will assist efforts to understand the presence of variants of concern better and help us monitor the movement of avian influenza strains along migratory pathways,” an APHIS statement said.

APHIS is working with state wildlife and natural resource departments on stepped-up vigilance and investigations of wild bird morbidity and mortality events.

Everyone with backyard flocks to commercial poultry producers is encouraged to review biosecurity plans and practices. Owners need to keep their birds away from wild birds.

Here is the rundown of recent APHIS reports confirming highly pathogenic Avian Flu outbreaks in the United States;

Jan. 14 –

  • In Collection County, SC, wild American wigeon with the Eurasian H5 strain of avian Flu is discovered.

Feb. 9 –

  • In Dubois County, IN, 2022’s first instance of Avian Flu in a commercial flock strikes a commercial turkey farm.

Feb. 14 –  

  • In Fulton County, KY, a flock of commercial broiler chickens is hit. 
  • In Fauquier County, VA, a backyard flock of mixed bird species shows the disease.

Feb. 19 –

  • In Suffolk County, NY, a non-commercial backyard flock is found to have the flu present.

Feb. 20 –

  • In Knox Couny, Maine, a non-commercial backyard flock tests positive.

From 2014 through 2015, U.S. poultry and egg producers experienced the largest outbreak H5N2 outbreak in recorded history with approximately 51 million birds depopulated to control the spread of the disease. Between May and June 2015, 25 million birds were culled, equating to 409,836 birds per day, or 284 birds per minute. In total, the 2014-2015 H5N2/H5N8 outbreak cost the U.S. $879 million in public expenditures to eradicate the disease from poultry production; the most costly United States HPAI outbreak to date.

The United States has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world. Through our ongoing wild bird surveillance program, APHIS collects and tests large numbers of samples from wild birds in the North American flyways. It is not uncommon to detect avian influenza in wild birds, as avian influenza viruses circulate freely in those populations without the birds appearing sick. In addition to monitoring for avian influenza in wild bird populations, APHIS monitors for the virus in commercial and backyard birds. 

With the recent detections of the Eurasian H5 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds and domestic poultry in the United States, bird owners should review their biosecurity practices and stay vigilant to protect poultry and pet birds from this disease. APHIS is working closely with state partners on surveillance, reporting, and control efforts.

As for human health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says bird flu is a minimal risk to people. It says: “Avian influenza A viruses do not normally infect people, but sporadic infections in people have occurred with some avian influenza A viruses. Illnesses in humans from avian influenza A virus infections have ranged in severity from no symptoms or mild illness to severe disease that resulted in death.

“Human infections with avian influenza A viruses have most often occurred after direct unprotected contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated by their secretions or excretions. Five subtypes of avian influenza A viruses have infected people to cause respiratory illness (H5, H6, H7, H9, and H10 viruses). Among these, H5N1 and H7N9 viruses have caused the majority of infections in people. More information about avian influenza infection in humans is available at Avian Influenza A Virus Infections in Humans.”

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