State agriculture officials order halt to poultry exhibitions amid avian flu outbreak

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Michigan agricultural officials announced Tuesday they will stop allowing poultry and waterfowl displays this year until the avian influenza outbreak slows its spread. 

The stoppage is effective immediately. It applies to shows, exhibitions, swap meets, petting zoos at fairs and displays of game birds and waterfowl at fairs, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said in a press release.

It does not apply to egg hatching exhibits, pigeon races or zoos.

Avian influenza is highly contagious and is spreading through Michigan's backyard chicken flocks and wild birds. Since the first case was identified in Kalamazoo County in late February, avian influenza cases have been identified in domesticated birds and backyard flocks in Macomb, Menominee, Livingston, Washtenaw, Saginaw, Wexford, Branch and Oakland counties.

Canada geese are seen outside the University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center on Friday, May 6, 2022. Michigan agricultural officials announced Tuesday they will stop allowing poultry and waterfowl displays this year until the avian influenza outbreak slows its spread. The virus also appeared in wild Canada geese and tundra swans from St. Clair County, snowy owls in Macomb County and a mute swan in Monroe County.

The virus also has appeared in wild Canada geese and tundra swans from St. Clair County, snowy owls in Macomb County and a mute swan in Monroe County.

"While the stop on poultry exhibitions is not ideal, the safety of our exhibitors, attendees, and animals is of the utmost importance to our fairs," said Lisa Reiff, executive director of the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions. "Fairs are already planning ways for poultry to still be a part of the fair in a non-traditional way that will keep everyone safe."

Avian influenza viruses usually do not infect people, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is possible for humans to catch the virus from birds. Infected birds can shed the virus through their saliva, mucous and feces. Humans can get infected if the virus gets into their eyes, nose or mouth, or if it is inhaled.

The CDC said the virus poses a low risk to the public but one human case was identified this year.

MDARD officials will allow exhibitions to continue if the state goes 30 days without a new detection of avian influenza in domestic poultry. The department will work with the Michigan Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, Michigan State University Extension, 4-H programs and other groups to tell them when they can resume programs. 

"Preventative measures are the best and only tools we have to limit the negative impact of (highly pathogenic avian influenza)," State Veterinarian Nora Wineland said. "By exercising this necessary precaution, we can wait for the warmer, drier weather needed to kill the virus without creating conditions that could worsen the problem. By taking this step now, it is hoped that poultry exhibitors can still participate in fair activities once circumstances have improved."

ckthompson@detroitnews.com