Avian Influenza

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight, Ballard County, KY. Photo courtesy of John Brunjes
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in flight, Ballard County, KY - Photo Courtesy of John Brunjes​​​​

​FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 18, 2024) — The presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in samples taken from two snow geese at Sloughs Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Henderson County. The Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study Virology Laboratory confirmed HPAI in the geese after they were found dead on Dec. 18, 2023.​​

“HPAI is highly infectious and often deadly in wild and domestic birds,” said Dr. Christine Casey, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources veterinarian. “Practicing good biosecurity and limiting contact between wild birds and domestic flocks is crucial to preventing the spread of the disease.”​​​

Infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, mucus and feces. Symptoms of HPAI in infected birds include incoordination, droopy wings, lethargy, unwillingness to fly, swimming in circles and head tremors.

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​Avian influenza viruses occur naturally in wild birds, especially waterfowl, and can be found globally. There are many different subtypes of avian influenza viruses. These viruses​​​ are classified as either “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” (HPAI), based on their ability to produce disease in domestic poultry.​

While domestic poultry may exhibit high mortality due to infection from HPAI, wild waterfowl do not typically exhibit signs of disease. Raptor species, however, may be highly vulnerable to HPAI virus infection.​ ​​

​​​​​​​​Transmission can occur in several ways. Domestic birds can be exposed to the virus from contaminated clothing, boots, and equipment as well as from wild birds or their feces. It is important to practice good biosecurity and keep domestic birds isolated from other flocks.

Observed Sick or​ Dead Birds?

Contact 1-800-858-1549

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Surveillance for avian influenza viruses in wild populations can provide a warning to commercial producers and farmers to help prevent domestic exposure. USDA and state wildlife and animal health officials across the country work together to aggressively monitor and track avian influenza outbreaks as part of the National Avian Influenza Surveillance Plan.​

The public can help limit the spread of the disease by avoiding contact with birds and their droppings at home and outdoor areas such as parks and ponds. They can also practice good hygiene with such simple precautions as wearing gloves, changing shoes, and disinfecting exposed tools or materials before coming into contact with any pet or domestic bird species at home.

​The risk to human health posed by HPAI in wild birds and domestic poultry is low. Meat and eggs harvested from wild or domestic birds does not present a food safety risk when handled and cooked properly.

​For questions about High Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in domestic poultry, please refer to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s webpage:kyagr.com/statevet/HPAI​.html.


​Reporting Disease in Wild Birds

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife monitors for HPAI viruses by testing waterfowl and sick and dead birds. The Department asks members of the public to help with our surveillance efforts by reporting​​ observations of sick or dead wild birds directly by calling KDFWR at 1-800-858-1549 or reporting at our HPAI Survey.​

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife asks for reports of wild bird die-offs of the following wild bird species:

  • Waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and other water birds (coots, shorebirds or wading birds such as egrets, herons, cranes, grebes, or loons);
  • Birds of prey (eagles, hawks, and owls) or avian scavengers (crows, ravens, gulls, or vultures), particularly those observed near locations of waterfowl die-offs;
  • Wild turkeys; or
  • Any five or more individuals of wild bird species not listed above in close proximity to each other.


Information for Hunters:​

Though the risk of transmission of avian influenza to a human from wild birds is very low, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife recommends hunters and bird enthusiasts take the following routine precautions:

  1. Breast out your birds once you get home.
  2. Infected birds shed the virus into their saliva, mucous and feces, so avoid handling entrails. It’s best to breast out your birds rather than field dressing them. You should not feed carcasses to your dog or let your dog handle a bird beyond carrying it back to you. Remember that if you transport waterfowl, each bird must retain a wing or head for identification purposes. You should wait until you get home before breasting out your birds, doing so outside or in a well-ventilated area.​​

  3. Keep it clean.
  4. You can pick up and transmit the disease by handling carcasses. If you raise chickens or other domesticated birds, you can pass the disease onto these animals. It’s best to wear disposable gloves when handling your waterfowl carcasses. Wash your hands and exposed skin with soap and water afterwards. Consider wearing a face mask and goggles when processing your birds. Wash your processing equipment and work surfaces after processing your waterfowl.

  5. Cook until done.
  6. Cooking meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees will kill bacteria and viruses. Wild game is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked to the recommended temperature. This kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI.

  7. Dispose of carcasses properly.
  8. Double bag carcasses for pickup in your garbage or bury them deeply enough that animals will not dig them up. Don’t just throw carcasses in the woods behind your house. While there are no reports of dogs getting the disease in the United States, red foxes and coyotes have been infected. It’s best to protect your valuable hunting dogs by not letting them eat carcasses.

  9. Do not harvest, and report clusters of sick or dead waterfowl.
  10. ​Do not harvest or handle wild birds that seem sick or are found dead. Reporting problems helps Kentucky Fish and Wildlife monitor any outbreaks. Do so by utilizing our online reporting system. Birds stricken with the disease may act strangely, such as being unsteady or waving their heads. Reports should include location, date seen, species affected and what was seen.

Learn More About Avian Influenza

USGS National Wildlife Health Center

Kentucky Department of Agriculture