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Avian influenza detected in Orleans County backyard flock

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NEWPORT — The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a backyard flock in Orleans County earlier this week.

Samples taken by VAAFM and USDA officials on Monday were tested and the presence of HPAI was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. This marks the third instance of HPAI in domestic flocks in the state since the spring of last year, underscoring the persistent threat the disease poses to domestic birds.

The affected flock, consisting of 40 birds, experienced its first casualty on Dec. 2, followed by subsequent losses. After the attending veterinarian reported the incident to VAAFM on Monday afternoon, the flock was promptly quarantined and depopulated today by officials, with consent from the owners. No further instances of illness have been reported in other flocks.

Although HPAI poses a low risk to humans, individuals who were in contact with the infected flock are being monitored by the Vermont Department of Health. The United States has recorded only one human case of HPAI, which was clinically mild. The outbreak is a reminder to poultry owners, farmers, and hunters of the importance of reporting any sick or deceased birds.

The virus, while having a low impact on human health, can be fatal to various bird species. Bird owners are urged to reinforce biosecurity measures to safeguard their flocks.

The HPAI virus can be introduced to domestic poultry through wild birds, either via direct contact or through their droppings. It can then spread between poultry due to inadequate biosecurity or poor environmental conditions. Waterfowl may carry the disease without showing symptoms, but domestic poultry often succumb to the virus.

Risk factors for HPAI spread include outdoor housing for poultry, proximity to wild bird attractions, debris near poultry areas, introducing new birds without quarantine, lack of protective gear, shared equipment, and unrestricted human access. The USDA offers resources on biosecurity, including educational materials and a toolkit.

Bird owners are advised to limit farm access, avoid contact between domestic and wild birds, and report any signs of sickness or unexpected deaths to VAAFM at 802-828-2421 or USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Information on protecting backyard flocks can be found on the USDA website.

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