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Bird flu found in Oklahoma backyard poultry flocks

Backyard chickens
Todd Johnson
Backyard chickens

State agriculture officials have confirmed a highly contagious viral disease in three noncommercial backyard poultry flocks in east-central Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry held a town hall meeting Thursday to help inform backyard flock owners how to mitigate the spread of the bird flu.

Infections have been reported in Tulsa County and Creek County. Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Alicia Gorczyca-Southerland said the area of a recent third case will be announced soon by the state agriculture department.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is a severe type of bird flu that can infect chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese and is typically spread through the migration of wild birds. Gorczyca-Southerland said all three cases tested positive because the domestic flocks had contact with waterfowl like geese and ducks.

“We are really encouraging poultry owners to keep their birds up,” Gorczyca-Southerland said. “Block access to those ponds or other areas where routinely you see wild geese and ducks. The other important thing is, don't be feeding wild waterfowl right now; we really want to stop encouraging them from coming into our yard.”

The bird flu is often spread by fecal matter or nasal discharge from wild birds, as well as through equipment that’s come in contact with the virus.

Gorczyca-Southerland says backyard flock owners can prevent the spread of the disease by keeping birds in their coops and taking biosecurity measures:

  • Have dedicated shoes and clothes for your coop area. Don’t wear boots that you’ve already worn to work, or to go hunting or fishing. 
  • Don’t share equipment, and be sure to clean any equipment you use.
  • Always quarantine new birds.
  • Keep poultry indoors or in coops this month, if possible.
  • Block access to rivers and ponds.
  • Don’t feed wild waterfowl like ducks and geese.
  • Don’t use untreated or unfiltered surface water to wet or water poultry or to clean equipment, barns or other facilities. 

Signs of the disease in chickens include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal or eye discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Quiet or still-like birds 
  • Discoloration of the comb (red part on the chicken’s head), feet or legs

Although the virus is highly transmissible and lethal among birds, State Epidemiologist Jolianne Stone said the virus poses an overall low risk to humans. Nevertheless, Stone said the State Department of Health will work closely with agriculture officials to identify anyone who might have handled or cared for infected birds.

“This is something that we're doing in collaboration in order to ensure that you are kept safe and that your family members are kept safe in these instances,” Stone said.

Stone encourages people that come in contact with a flock that tests positive to call a helpline that state epidemiologists offer: 405-426-8710.

Xcaret Nuñez covered agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America from June 2022 to September 2023.
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