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Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

close up of brown chickens

Updated Nov. 20, 2023

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in a non-commercial backyard flock in San Juan County, New Mexico Nov. 20, 2023. Samples from the flock were tested by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) Veterinarian Diagnostic Services (VDS) Division in Albuquerque and have been tested by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

APHIS is working closely with state animal health officials in New Mexico on a joint incident response. State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the property will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. Birds from the flock will not enter the food system.

Over 45 states have had confirmed cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in domestic flocks. These include commercial operations and backyard flocks. For the most recent list of 2022-2023 confirmations of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in commercial and backyard flocks, please visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website.

Avian influenza is caused by an influenza type A virus which can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl).

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus strains are extremely infectious, often fatal to chickens, and can spread rapidly from flock-to-flock.

What are the signs of HPAI?

The most common signs of HPAI include sudden death, decreased food and water consumption, lethargy, respiratory distress, nasal discharge, purple discoloration or swelling around the legs and head, a drop in egg production and diarrhea.

Veterinarians: What You and Your Clients Need To Know About Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is a deadly disease of poultry. Recently, H5N1, a subtype of HPAI, was detected in wild birds and commercial and backyard poultry flocks in several U.S. States. With the increase of backyard producers and pet bird owners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and your state veterinarian need your help. As a companion animal veterinarian or a poultry enthusiast, you can help protect backyard flocks and pet birds by informing your clients how to recognize the signs of HPAI and urging the reporting of sick birds. Rapid and thorough reporting is critical to stop the spread of this disease.

Non-Veterinarians: What You Need To Know

Know the signs, use good biosecurity (see “What can you do to keep your birds safe?” below), and report sick birds or unusual changes in the flock. Some of the affected flock owners reported a decrease in feed and water intake prior to seeing sick birds. Immediately report sick birds to the state veterinarian at 505-841-6161 or 505-414-2811, or call the USDA at 866-536-7593. The local USDA office may be reached at 505-313-8050. Either a state veterinarian or a federal veterinarian will speak with you to evaluate the case and follow up accordingly.

What is HPAI?

Avian influenza is a respiratory disease of birds caused by influenza type A viruses. These viruses are common in wild birds in the United States and around the world. In most cases, they cause few or no signs of infection. However, some subtypes, like H5N1, can cause severe illness and death in poultry.

How does HPAI spread, and which bird species are most susceptible?

HPAI spreads quickly through direct, bird-to-bird contact. It can also be transmitted via contaminated surfaces (such as clothing, shoes and vehicles). Wild birds can spread the virus to new areas through their feces.

Domestic poultry, such as chickens and turkeys, are most likely to experience severe disease and death from HPAI, with mortality rates often exceeding 90 percent. Birds of prey, ratites and psittacines are also susceptible to HPAI infection.

What can you do to keep your birds safe? 

There is no cure for HPAI. Good biosecurity is the key to keeping poultry safe:

  • Keep wild birds and rodents out of poultry houses and coops and away from backyard flocks and pet birds.
  • Secure feed bins and water and consider removing bird feeders to avoid attracting wild birds.
  • Keep visitors away from birds and avoid visiting other poultry farms or other people’s birds.
  • Wash hands and scrub boots before and after entering a poultry area. Wear disposable boot covers and coveralls, if possible. If you’ve been in areas frequented by waterfowl, change clothes and shoes before handling poultry.
  • Isolate new birds or those returning from shows for 30 days before introducing them to the flock.
  • Immediately report sick birds to the state veterinarian at 505-841-6161 or 505-414-2811, or call the USDA at 866-536-7593. The local USDA office may be reached at 505-313-8050. Please note: There is a protocol for testing, and a regulatory veterinarian must conduct the testing. The testing may be conducted as a Foreign Animal Disease investigation, for which there will be no cost to the owner.


The USDA-APHIS website offers information about HPAI.

The USDA-APHIS “Defend the Flock Program” offers biosecurity tips.

The USDA-APHIS website offers HPAI resources for producers.

The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers information about avian influenza and human health.

The New Mexico Livestock Board offers information about import permits for shipments coming to New Mexico originating in the HPAI-impacted states.