Additional Detections of Avian Influenza Confirmed in Montana
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: January 1, 2023

Helena, Mont. –  On Thursday, December 15, the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) confirmed that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) killed a small backyard poultry flock in Flathead County. This case marks the 16th HPAI affected flock in the state since the start of the outbreak in March. The 2022 HPAI variant continues to have a significant effect on commercial and backyard flocks, with over 56 million birds in 47 states affected nationally.

Avian influenza is an infectious viral disease of birds that can cause high mortality in domestic flocks. Migratory waterfowl are the primary source of HPAI. Wild birds can be infected and appear healthy but shed virus in the feces, saliva, and respiratory secretions. Domestic poultry become infected through direct contact with wild birds, or through contact with contaminated objects, equipment, or the environment.

“HPAI has impacted over 80,000 domestic birds in Montana.” stated Martin Zaluski, Montana State Veterinarian “The impacts of this year’s disease outbreak are substantial.”

Infected or sick birds can exhibit numerous signs such as swollen eyes, discolored comb and legs, a significant drop in egg production, or decrease in water and feed consumption. However, the most common sign has been sudden death of multiple birds within a flock. This has been the case in Montana where affected flocks have experienced high death loss.

Infected flocks are placed under quarantine and any remaining birds on the premises are required to be depopulated to prevent further disease spread. Flock owners are eligible to receive indemnity on depopulated birds from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In addition to restrictions on the affected flock, the Department will conduct disease surveillance of poultry premises within 6 miles (10 km) of the affected premises. Surveillance includes contact with premises to inquire about any sick birds and weekly sampling for premises that may sell poultry or poultry products.

Due to ongoing detections, the department has reinstated guidance regarding housing birds indoors, including birds enrolled in certified organic programs, and continues to emphasize the importance of biosecurity. Certified organic producers should contact their certifier before moving birds indoors to ensure program compliance.

Biosecurity measures to protect flocks include:

  • Prevent contact between wild or migratory birds and domestic poultry, including access by wild birds to feed and water sources.
  • House birds indoors to the extent possible to limit exposure to wild or migratory birds.
  • Limit visitor access to areas where birds are housed.
  • Use dedicated clothing and protective footwear when caring for domestic poultry.
  • Immediately isolate sick animals and contact your veterinarian or MDOL.

The department encourages all poultry producers to immediately report sudden onset of illness or high death loss in domestic poultry to their veterinarian or the department at (406/444-2976). If you find sick or dead wild birds that have died from unknown causes, please contact your local FWP Warden, Biologist or Regional office, or call the FWP wildlife veterinarian (406/577-7880).

While HPAI is considered a potentially zoonotic disease, CDC continues to consider the risk to people from wild birds, backyard flocks, and commercial poultry to be low.

Existing safeguards to keep food safe and wholesome are sufficient to protect people, and the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world. As a reminder, the US Department of Agriculture recommends cooking poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The CDC has helpful resources and information regarding the risk for people and pets at  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-in-other-animals.htm

The mission of the Montana Department of Livestock is to control and eradicate animal diseases, prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans, and to protect the livestock industry from theft and predatory animals. For more information on the Montana Department of Livestock, visit www.liv.mt.gov.

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