5 Myths about the Bird Flu

If you follow along on this blog's Facebook page, you know I've been posting news stories about avian influenza. My goal is not to spread fear, but rather to help you prepare in case bird flu comes to your area. Increasingly, though, I've been seeing push back against info on avian flu. To a certain extent, I understand where this is coming from, but if you take the time to research the topic a little, I think you'll find a lot of what you're hearing on the Negative Nelly side of things is myth, not fact. Here are some examples.

Myth #1: The bird flu is fake.

Well, history proves this myth completely wrong. The truth is, the avian flu has been around for a long time. In 1878, the "fowl plague" struck farms; scientists now believe that was what we now call avian influenza. Then in 1924, the bird flu hit American farms again, and then, more famously in 1983. Subsequent outbreaks have occurred more and more frequently.

Bird flu is carried and spread by wild birds (especially ducks), which means natural bird migration spreads the disease easily. Some scientists believe the popularity of Asian poultry markets, which grew rapidly starting in the 1970s, also helped speed the spread of the disease. Like other types of flu, avian influenza is spread by bodily secretions, including feces and nasal secretions.

What may cause confusion, however, is that there are at least two types of bird flu. "Low Pathogenic" (LPAI) makes birds ill, but doesn't kill them. Birds infected with LPAI may appear tired, may eat less, and their egg production will drop. "Highly Pathogenic" (HPAI), however, is another story. It has a mortality rate of around 90%, killing birds within 48 hours. If HPAI hits your flock, you will know without question that something is seriously wrong. See myth #3 for a homesteader's experience with this.

Myth #2: The government is testing flocks using inaccurate testing procedures.

The government is not randomly testing homestead and backyard flocks. Even if they wanted to, they don't have the manpower to do so. Officials only test homestead birds if a homesteader calls them for help - which likely only happens if homesteaders experience a rash of suddenly dead birds. 

Even if the testing procedures that officials used were inaccurate, homesteaders can easily see whether their birds have HPAI. Symptoms include:

* A head with a blue appearance.

* Unusually wet eyes.

*  Flock huddling and ruffled feathers.

* Fluid in the comb and wattles.

* Coughing.

* Bleeding of the legs under the skin.

* Sudden death. 

Image courtesy of


Myth #3: The government is swooping in and destroying flocks without permission.

I have found exactly zero cases of this happening. In fact, I recommend you read blog posts from homesteaders who've experienced bird flu on their land. For instance, Kirsten Lie-Nielsen, of Hostile Family Farm wrote the following:

"I did not want to [call the USDA]...I had read it would mean months not being allowed in my barn - where my goats and sheep live. I was worried they’d just swoop in with hazmat suits and no bedside manner. But they were extremely accommodating. They do not euthanize any birds until it is confirmed the disease is avian flu (and if a different disease is found, they’ll talk you through treatments). They ask you to quarantine poultry equipment and take basic hygiene steps, but are deeply respectful of your property and space, and do not make any rules about what you can or cannot do on your property. They answer any questions or concerns you may have, if you’re freaking out about any associated health risks or your other animals, they are veterinarians who will talk you through it. They also offer compensation for your flock, which may sound a bit tawdry but if your birds are a source of income for your farm that’s going to be an vital salve on the wound of losing your poultry." (Read her entire post here.)

Image courtesy of


Myth #4: There is nothing you can do to prevent bird flu from touching your homestead.

If all the CDC recommendations are followed on your homestead, it's unlikely your birds will catch avian flu. However, I doubt most homesteaders will want to go to the measures the government recommends. These include:

* Not feeding any wild birds or having ponds that attract wild waterfowl.

* Not free-ranging birds.

* Keeping birds in a well-covered run or inside a building.

* Having clothing and shoes you ONLY wear for working with your birds.

* Having a shoe station where you disinfect your shoes before and after visiting your birds.

* Not allowing any visitors to your flock. Not taking birds to any shows or fair events. Not visiting birds at show or fair events. Not visiting other people's birds on their homesteads or farms.

*  Not adding any birds to your flocks, or quarantining new birds for 30 days.

* Keeping different types of flocks separate. (Turkeys separate from chickens or quail separate from ducks, for example.)

* Placing bird manure in its own compost heap and letting it sit until the pathogens are dead. Bird flu stays alive in feces for 100 days. Do not handle un-aged poultry manure with bare hands.

* Handling sick birds only with protective gear (gloves, medical mask, eye protection) and washing your hands thoroughly afterward.

Image courtesy of

Myth #5: The bird flu is deadly to humans.

Avian influenza rarely affects humans - and in the rare instances when it does, symptoms are usually mild. The very first human case in the U.S. was reported on April 28, 2022; the patient's only symptom was fatigue. The human in question had been culling birds infected with avian influenza at a commercial poultry establishment.

Human deaths from avian influenza are associated with the Asian lineage of the disease, among people in direct contact with infected poultry. Scientists don't have an exact number of human deaths, but worldwide everyone agrees it is under 20 people, total.


Instead of being afraid of avian influenza - or being in denial about it - smart homesteaders should have a plan in place in case the bird flu reaches their area. A simple way to help avoid the disease from reaching your flock is
simply to house your birds indoors, for example, and have a set of clothes and shoes you only wear when tending your flock.

Image courtesy of

 *Title image courtesy of the CDC.

No comments