A strain of avian influenza has been detected in a backyard flock of birds in Dallas County, although the virus poses little threat to public health, the Texas Animal Health Commission announced Monday.
Samples were taken from the Dallas flock and tested at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory after the observation of sick birds and bird deaths. The case, which includes more than 200 birds, represents the second flock in Texas to test positive for the H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza in 2022.
State officials quarantined the Dallas County property where the disease was detected and are destroying the birds to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. They’re also working with federal animal health officials in responding to the case.
“The depopulation response is what we should do to prevent and control it, but at this point it’s low-risk for humans,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.
Avian influenza, or bird flu, is caused by an influenza type A virus that can infect birds like chickens, turkeys, pheasants, ducks and geese, among others. The highly pathogenic version of the virus spreads rapidly and can cause high death rates in birds, while the low pathogenic version only causes minor illness and occurs naturally in migratory waterfowl.
While more than 46 million birds across 40 states have been affected by this year’s outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported only one case of the virus in a human in April. The infected person had direct exposure to poultry with H5N1 bird flu and was subsequently isolated and treated with an antiviral drug.
Although the risk of transmission to humans is low, avian influenza in people can cause symptoms ranging from fever, cough and muscle aches to nausea, abdominal pain and eye infections.
People who have exposure to infected birds through work or recreational activities should follow public health guidelines, like wearing protective gear when handling the birds and washing their hands with soap and water after touching the birds.
Birds at the Dallas Zoo are being relocated to more protective areas and following the detection of the virus in Dallas County. The Forest Aviary and Birds Landing areas are also being closed to the public, a zoo spokesperson said Monday.
This is the second time this year that the zoo’s birds have been taken behind the scenes in an effort to prevent the contraction of avian flu. The first was in April, after the virus was detected in a flock in Erath County, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas.
The CDC recommends that bird owners prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to the state or federal government. People should also follow food safety guidelines by making sure poultry and eggs are cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
“With migratory birds traveling across Texas, it is important that poultry owners stay diligent and practice strong biosecurity to protect their flocks from avian influenza,” said Dr. Andy Schwartz, TAHC executive director and state veterinarian.
Owners of commercial and backyard poultry flocks should report any sudden increases in sick birds or bird deaths to the TAHC at 1-800-550-8242 or the USDA at 1-866-536-7593.
Staff Writer Sarah Bahari contributed to this report.