Swabbing mixed breed baby chicks to test for avian influenza.

Garfield County Public Health monitoring nationwide avian influenza outbreak

June 11, 2024

Garfield County Public Health is monitoring an avian influenza outbreak that is killing poultry and several other species of animals around the United States. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) spreads between wild water birds, such as ducks, geese, and swans.

When these infected birds or their excrement or saliva are around domestic animals, such as chickens, turkeys, or cows, they can pass the virus. It is not clear how cows, specifically dairy cows, have been contracting the virus from birds. Health experts are still investigating possible sources, which may include contaminated cow feed.

“The virus has the potential to impact livestock, but in the process, people who work with sick animals can become ill,” said Garfield County Public Health Director Joshua Williams.

The risk to the general public is low, but individuals who work around livestock, especially cattle, or those who drink unpasteurized milk, should take precautions. High levels of HPAI virus have been found in unpasteurized milk from infected cows. Pasteurization kills the virus, so there is no threat from consuming pasteurized milk at this time.

There have been three reported human cases in the U.S., following exposure to dairy cows. HPAI has been detected in dairy cattle herds in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. No human cases have been reported in Colorado, but the state health department continues to monitor four northeast Colorado dairies that have detected the virus.

Avian influenza has killed several species of wild animals, domestic poultry, and cattle in Colorado. Backyard songbirds such as cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows, or pigeons, do not usually carry bird flu viruses.

More information can be found on the Colorado and CDC avian flu situation reports.

Guidance for backyard poultry owners and cattle producers

Animal owners and producers should avoid close, long, or unprotected exposures to sick or dead animals, including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds, and other wild or domesticated animals, including cows.
HPAI symptoms in dairy cows include low appetite, decreased milk production, and abnormal colostrum-like milk.

Poultry owners should monitor flocks for signs of illness or death, prevent interaction between domestic and wild water birds, and keep food and water sources apart.
Infected poultry, and possibly pet birds, may show one or more of the following signs:

• Sudden death with no prior sign of illness
• Low energy or appetite
• Purple discoloration or swelling of various body parts
• Reduced egg production, or soft-shelled/misshapen eggs
• Nasal discharge, coughing, or sneezing
• Lack of coordination
• Diarrhea

Additional resources:
Recommended precautions for people exposed to infected or potentially infected animals.
Prevention and antiviral treatment of bird flu viruses in people.
• Colorado Department of Agriculture poultry owner form for veterinarians and poultry owners to report suspicious disease events.