skip to main content skip to main navigation
What is Avian Influenza (AI)?
Veterinarians & Poultry Experts Needed
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the disease spread?
Potential Human Impact
Clinical Signs in Poultry
Surveillance and Testing Program
AI Biosecurity

What is Avian Influenza (AI)?
roosterAvian Influenza Virus is a Type A Influenza virus. There are 15 subtypes of influenza virus known to infect birds. These subtypes are classified as “H” or “N”. Type A Influenza viruses can affect humans (H1N1, H1N2, H2N2), horses (H3N8, H7N7), pigs and many bird species. There are two forms of the type A Influenza viruses that affect birds, Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) and High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).


Outbreaks in Asia have resulted in the death and depopulation of millions of birds and morbidity and mortality in people with direct contact with infected birds. LPAI is not typically as virulent as HPAI. However, research has shown that AI viruses of low pathogenicity can mutate into highly pathogenic viruses (antigenic drift). Some strains of HPAI can infect humans. Scientists are concerned about the potential for the virus to acquire human influenza genes and develop the ability to transmit from human to human. Therefore, it is important to control the spread of avian influenza through the use of personal protective equipment and biosecurity. During the 1983-84 AI epidemic in Pennsylvania poultry, the H5N2 virus initially caused low mortality, but within 6 months became highly pathogenic, with a mortality approaching 90 percent. Control of this outbreak required destruction of more than 17 million birds at a cost of nearly $65 million dollars. In March 2004 evidence of a low and high pathogenicity avian influenza virus was detected on a broiler-breeder farm in Canada. Although only 3 million birds were destroyed in this epidemic compared to the 17 million destroyed in Pennsylvania, it has been estimated that the outbreak in Canada will cost farmers approximately $340 million to rebuild the industry. In addition to the negative economic impact to the poultry industry, the cost of an outbreak also includes depopulation and disposal of bird carcasses, labor, cleaning, disinfection, and premises or business downtime.

Veterinarians & Poultry Experts Needed
With the number of international cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) continuously increasing, there is a greater and greater demand on USDA and the U.S. agricultural community to provide personnel worldwide with the following expertise:

1) Veterinary Vaccine Experts

2) Communications/Public Affairs Specialists

3) Agricultural Economists

4) Operations/Logistics Specialists

5) Veterinary Epidemiologists

6) Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians

There are requests/needs for:

1) expert teams for short term assignments (1-2 weeks) to countries experiencing AI outbreaks, as part of a broader USG team;

2) teams and individuals for short term (1-3 weeks) assignments in AI capacity building internationally;

3) individuals for longer term (3-6 months) international AI assignments;

4) individuals for long term (1-2 years) international AI assignments;

5) individuals for long term (1-2 years) assignments in D.C. as part of a team to coordinate worldwide activities and support.

APHIS is developing a roster of experts available for deployment with the above 6 specialties and in the 5 types of assignments listed. Candidates should email expressions of interest to: and the email subject line must read as follows:  SUBJECT: CV, sender's last name, first name (example: Subject: CV, Smith, John)

Once the AI Team has received these expressions of interest in serving abroad (or in D.C.), they will forward the individuals the terms of reference for the positions and the Personal History Form of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to obtain the information needed for the Roster. All costs associated with the short and long-term assignments would be covered by USDA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Avian Influenza
FAQs Testing to Prevent Avian Influenza in Your Flock
FAQs Biosecurity to Prevent Avian Influenza in Your Flock
FAQs Approved Disinfectants
FAQs For the General Public
FAQs For Poultry Owners

How is the disease spread? 
Both forms of AI are highly contagious and are spread through movement of infected birds, infected droppings, contaminated clothing, materials, and equipment. Wild waterfowl are believed to be the reservoir of Avian Influenza, shedding the virus in their feces without clinical signs of disease. An outbreak in migrating waterfowl in China has caused concern due to the large numbers of deaths and the fact that the waterfowl will spread the virus with migration. This disease is important because it leads to a decrease in egg productivity and can cause high morbidity and mortality.

Avian Influenza Virus

 The influenza virus, as well as the antigens (small spikes) on the viral particle surface. These antigens are what stimulate the immunological response in the host (bird, human, etc.)


Potential Human Impact 
LPAI viruses have the ability to mutate into HPAI strains that can infect humans. These strains of HPAI are the source of pandemic outbreaks where a new subtype of the virus is created and can be transmitted between humans or an older subtype of the virus resurfaces that hasn't been detected or transmitted for years. Influenza pandemics in the past have caused severe illness and death in humans and substantial economic loss.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services has a comprehensive website regarding Influenza, a viral infection of the respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs.

Pandemic Flu website Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Clinical Signs in Poultry
Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza:

- Little or no clinical signs
- Mild respiratory disease (coughing and sneezing)
- Decreased egg production

High Pathogenic Avian Influenza:

- Sudden death without clinical signs
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Nasal Discharge
- Coughing and sneezing
- Decreased Egg Production
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, combs, wattles and hocks
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs
- Incoordination
- Diarrhea
- Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs

Clinical signs of Avian Influenza include swelling of the head, respiratory distress such as excessive coughing and sneezing (left), decreased food consumption, and purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs (right).


Surveillance and Testing Program
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Healthhas been doing active surveillance and testing of birds for Avian Influenza within the state for over 20 years. Surveillance is conducted on backyard flocks, at livestock and poultry auctions, poultry distributor facilities and live bird markets. Testing for AI is performed in order to allow for early detection and elimination of the virus if it is found.

If you would like more information regarding AI flock testing contact the Division of Animal Health at (609) 671-6400.

Avian Influenza Biosecurity
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has an emergency response plan in place for the rapid control and elimination of the virus during outbreaks of both LPAI and HPAI. The plan includes provisions for limiting the spread of the disease through increased biosecurity including limiting the traffic to and from the infected premise, increased surveillance in designated quarantine zones, rapid turn around time for submitted samples and depopulation and vaccination procedures for infected birds.

Good biosecurity is one of the best ways to prevent and control the spread of any disease. Many people don’t realize that diseases can be carried on clothing, equipment, or vehicles. Here are some ways to keep your birds healthy:

  • Wear clean clothing that has been washed with laundry detergent, and boots that have been cleaned and disinfected. Also make sure that anyone else entering your property follows these guidelines because disease can be easily spread by clothing shoes and hands that have contact with the birds. Some examples of disinfectants would be Roccal, Nolvasan, Household bleach, Lysol spray for footwear, and Purell for hand disinfection. Not sure where this bullet would fit in best.

biosecurity photosThese men are practicing proper biosecurity by preventing the transmission of disease by debris carried on footwear and clothing. This includes disinfecting footwear before and after working with the birds (left), or keeping a separate pair of shoes (such as the over-the-shoe boots seen above) to work around birds and changing into other shoes when leaving the premise (right). This also includes wearing coveralls, like the man on the right, which can be removed when leaving the premise and easily cleaned.

  • Make sure all equipment that had contact with the poultry, such as lawn, garden and poultry equipment, is washed and disinfected before taken to another place. You should follow the same procedure when you bring your equipment back onto your property so no diseases are brought on from somewhere else.
  • Only allow your employees to handle the birds on a day-to-day basis. Make sure that these employees don’t own a commercial or private bird operation themselves, because this could lead to the spread of disease.
  • Do not visit any other poultry farms or places where birds may be kept. If you attend shows or fairs, keep from coming in contact with other poultry owners, because they may not follow the same biosecurity measures that you do.

An important part of biosecurity is recognizing the various ways that disease can spread from farm to farm. This includes carrying debris (mud, droppings, etc) on vehicle tires and even on tools such as feed scoops, shovels, and brooms. To prevent the spread of germs, clean and disinfect these items between uses/premises.

  • Wild birds such as geese, ducks and game birds can be carriers of infectious disease. It is very important to try to prevent these birds from coming in contact with your poultry.
  • Practice the “all in-all out” policy with poultry. Each lot of birds should be processed separately. Try not to leave birds behind because they have a better chance of contracting a disease because of their prolonged exposure. It also is good practice to clean and allow sufficient downtime in between flocks.
  • Knowing the warning signs of an infectious disease is very important. If bird owners are familiar with the symptoms of diseases, they will be able to prevent further spread into their flocks. If any of the signs listed above are found in your birds, it is important that you contact your veterinarian or State, Federal, or local agriculture officials immediately.


Antigenic Drift (1)- the process of “evolutionary” changes in molecular structure of DNA/RNA in microorganisms during their passage from one host to another; it may be due to recombination, deletion, or insertion of genes, point mutations or combinations of these events; it leads to alteration (usually slow and progressive) in the antigenic composition, and therefore in the immunologic responses of individuals and populations to exposure to the microorganism concerned.

Biosecurity (2)- all the cumulative measures that can or should be taken to keep disease (viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, parasites) from a farm and to prevent the transmission of disease (by humans, insects, rodents, and wild birds/animals) within an infected farm or to neighboring farms.

Morbidity (3)- a diseased state.

Mortality (4)- death. Also, the number of deaths in a given time or place or the
proportion of deaths to population.

Reservoir (of infection) (5)-living or nonliving material in or on which an infective agent multiplies and/or develops and is dependent for its survival in nature.

1,3,5: Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, 27th edition. 2000.
2: Hegni, Dr. Fidelis (USDA,APHIS,Veterinary Services). 2004. Overview of Biosecurity and Avian Influenza.
4: Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.


For general information on Avian Influenza:

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)- Hot Issues-Avian Influenza

World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)

For information on Biosecurity:

APHIS-Biosecurity for the Birds

For Teachers:

Avian Influenza Lesson Plan, Agriculture in the Classroom, USDA

For information on Poultry Importation and Fair Regulations for Neighboring States:

New York:

For additional states’ regulations, contact that state’s Department of Agriculture.