Highly pathogenic avian influenza

A USGS employee examines a goose
USGS scientist takes a blood sample from a blue-winged teal as part of a study on migratory birds and the pathogens they may carry between continents.

Photo courtesy of USGS/USFWS.

What is it? Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is primarily a disease of domestic poultry but can spillover into wild birds, resulting in mortality and increased risks for spread through movements of wild birds. HPAI is uncommon in the US but is a concern due to the significant economic consequences associated with outbreaks in domestic poultry. Wild birds, specifically waterfowl and shorebirds, commonly carry low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses without harm.

Where is it? HPAI in wild birds in the US was initially detected in wild ducks in Washington State in December 2014. Subsequent infections and mortality were found in geese, raptors and domestic poultry in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyway through mid-summer of 2015. All outbreaks in domestic poultry in the US have been resolved. In 2016, numerous outbreaks of HPAI have been observed in Asian, European and Middle Eastern countries involving domestic poultry, waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors. The most recent detection of HPAI virus in the US was in a mallard duck sampled by Alaska Department of Fish and Game in August 2016 in Fairbanks. For further information see the Wildlife Health Bulletins from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.

Viruses circulating in Eurasia in 2016 have been associated with mortality events in wild bird species and thus recommend heightened vigilance for morbidity or mortality in wild birds of North America.

What can be done?

Be on the lookout for wildlife mortality events involving:

  • waterfowl, other water birds (wading, shorebirds), or gallinaceous birds (turkey, quail, grouse) especially if in close proximity to domestic poultry facilities
  • raptors or other avian scavengers near any waterfowl mortality
  • waterfowl, raptors or avian scavengers with neurologic signs (circling, jerky movements, unusual posture)

If you see any of these signs or suspect potential for HPAI infection (NPS employees only):

Public Health and Biosecurity Guidance

  • Know how to protect yourself and prevent spreading the virus to other populations or birds at home (domestic poultry or pet birds).

Although the current strains of HPAI detected from wild birds in North America have not caused human infections and are not considered zoonotic (CDC), related strains of the virus have infected people in other countries and have the potential to reassort and infect humans in rare cases. Because of this, we recommend individuals investigating unusual wild bird moralities follow the updated DOI guidance: Employee Health and Safety Guidance for Avian Influenza Surveillance and Control Activities in Wild Bird Populations.

Additional Information and Resources:

Last updated: January 3, 2018