LIBERTY – The Sullivan County Department of Public Health has been notified of an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) within a multi-species flock in the county. This was laboratory-confirmed to be of the H5N1 influenza strain.
The flock includes chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl that possibly were exposed via contact with wild waterfowl. As of this notification, more than 100 birds have succumbed to the infection, with the remainder of the 116-bird flock being euthanized this past weekend.
In early February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the detection of HPAI at a commercial turkey facility in Dubois County, Indiana. This was the first confirmed case in the U.S. since 2020. Since that initial case, New York has seen multiple cases in commercial or backyard flocks in Fulton, Ulster, Dutchess, Monroe, Orleans, and Suffolk counties. Wild birds infected with HPAI were identified in Wayne, Suffolk, Seneca and Cayuga counties.
Human infections can occur if an individual comes into contact with ill birds. Symptoms in birds include diarrhea, malaise, loss of egg production and/or misshaped eggs, anorexia, discolored combs, wattles, hocks and skin around the eyes, neurological changes (discoordination), death with no other apparent cause and swelling.
“No documented human cases have occurred within this particular HPAI outbreak among local fowl, but historically, pandemic influenza outbreaks have started in animals and spilled over into the human population, so we’re keeping a very close eye on the situation with the New York State Department of Health,” said county Public Health Director Nancy McGraw.
According to the World Health Organization, almost all cases of H5N1 infection in people have been associated with close contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments. The virus does not infect humans easily, and spread from person to person appears to be unusual. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly prepared and thoroughly cooked food.
Exposure that could lead to possible infection include inhalation of viral particles as well as viral particles entering mucous membranes such as eyes, nose and mouth. The virus is shed through saliva, feces and mucous. Droplets or dust can act as a vehicle for human transmission.
“If you have had contact with an ill bird and exhibit symptoms such as conjunctivitis, upper respiratory symptoms, fever, body aches, or symptoms consistent with any flu-like illness, please contact our office at 845-292-5910 X 0,” said McGraw. “Laboratory testing will be needed to confirm a human infection after exposure to an ill bird.”
For general questions about the disease, call 845-292-5910 and ask for the Epidemiology Department, or visit https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/avian.