STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – Bird owners in Mississippi are asked to be vigilant after a commercial breeder chicken flock in Lawrence County tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the case to the Mississippi Board of Animal Health (MBAH) on November 5.

Samples from the flock were tested at the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl and confirmed at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

HPAI is a highly contagious form of avian influenza that can kill entire flocks of infected poultry. The virus can occur naturally in wild aquatic birds and can be spread to poultry.

The virus does not pose a food safety risk; poultry products cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees are still safe to eat. However, rapid spread can shut down commercial and backyard operations.

MBAH State Veterinarian Jim Watson said his agency has quarantined the affected site and is working with the poultry industry to increase surveillance of flocks across the state.

“Birds on the property have been depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease and will not enter the food system,” Watson said. “Anyone involved with poultry production from the small backyard to the large commercial producer should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds.”

MBAH lists the following symptoms for infected birds: coughing, sneezing, incoordination, diarrhea, nasal discharge, sudden death, decreased egg production, lack of energy or appetite, soft-shelled or misshapen eggs, and swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb or hocks.

Backyard bird owners can report any sick or dying birds using the Board of Animal Health web portal or use the MBAH animal disaster hotline at 1-888-646-8731.