Flocks have continued to be infected with a deadly strain of avian influenza in Maine. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Animal health officials have confirmed a second case of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza strain in Maine.

The small flock of non-commercial backyard birds are located about a mile from the Knox County flock where the first case of H5N1 ever in the state was discovered last week. Since then, state and federal agricultural officials have been monitoring domestic flocks within six miles of the first infected flock.

In both cases, animal health officials with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry worked with the birds’ owners to control any potential spread of H5N1. Each property was placed under quarantine and the affected birds were humanely euthanized.

H5N1 avian influenza is carried by flying wild waterfowl like ducks, geese and shorebirds. While it does not sicken wild birds, it causes severe symptoms in domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, geese and guinea fowl.

Symptoms include swollen heads, blue coloration of combs and wattles, lack of appetite, respiratory distress and diarrhea with a significant drop in egg production. These symptoms are particularly severe in chickens and turkeys.

According to Maine’s top veterinarian, it poses a serious threat to Maine’s domestic poultry.

“If people are owners of backyard chickens, turkeys or other domestic fowl they need to know the birds are all highly susceptible to this virus,” said Dr. Michele Walsh, state veterinarian with Maine DACF. “If I were them I would do everything I can to limit the mixing of my birds and wild birds, particularly waterfowl.”

This means practicing good biosecurity including keeping domestic poultry away from any contact with wild birds and minimizing visitors to the birds’ yard and coop.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is also monitoring the avian flu situation in Maine. The H5N1 strain has not been detected in humans anywhere in the United States, but the Maine CDC is keeping tabs on the health of exposed state animal health staff and flock owners out of an abundance of caution.

Walsh said domestic poultry owners also need to be vigilant during the outbreak of avian flu. If there is any question about the health of an individual bird or entire flock, Walsh said it is crucial to report those cases to state officials by calling 1-866-536-7593.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.