COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS- The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension will supply information and provide resources for poultry producers and the public after positive cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were recently reported in Texas.

The university plans to provide guidance to mitigate commercial and backyard flock exposure to the disease.

On April 2, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) confirmed the first case in the state.

Greg Archer, PhD, a poultry specialist with the AgriLife Extension, said the first positive cases were confirmed on a game-bird facility in Erath County where pheasants produced for hunting were infected. Pheasants, quail and ducks were depopulated at the location. A 14-day quarantine period within a six-mile radius of the game ranch was started earlier this week.

“They feel relatively confident this is an isolated incident because of the ranch’s location,” Archer said. “But we need people with backyard flocks to be especially diligent about reducing birds’ exposure to wild birds as the spring migration continues.”

Archer added that there is still an investigation on the incident, and it is still undetermined how the birds were infected. It is suspected to have been “tracked in” by people working in the facility, possibly by bird feces on the bottom of employees’ boots.

“It is a disease that becomes very obvious in birds very quickly, and so we need people with birds to report incidents where they have a lot of birds getting sick or declining and dying very rapidly,” he said. “But we also want to reassure the public we are not seeing cases of human sickness related to this pathogen.”

Texas backyard producers are recommended to practice a higher level of biosecurity and limit flocks to exposure to wild birds. 

“Texas has been actively preparing alongside the USDA to respond to HPAI,” said Andy Schwartz, DVM, TAHC executive director and state veterinarian. “We’d like to encourage Texas poultry owners to educate themselves on this disease and be vigilant in taking steps to protect their flocks from avian influenza.”

TAHC said existing avian influenza response plans include federal and state partners working together on additional surveillance and testing in areas around the affected flock. 

Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory will be testing samples from the game ranch during the quarantine period. Positive test results for avian flu were sent to and confirmed by the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

According to the USDA, more than 23 million commercial and backyard poultry birds in 24 states have been impacted by the most recent HPAI outbreak.