CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services confirmed a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a Caroline County backyard chicken coop.

“The chickens got sick after a sick vulture had gotten into her enclosure,” said state veterinarian Charles C. Broaddus.

Broaddus told 8News this could hint at an early start to the “bird flu season.” He said it’s crucial people with backyard chicken coops protect their birds from waterfowl and other wild birds.

Avian influenza season typically parallels bird migration patterns. In what is referred to as the “Atlantic Flyway,” many wild birds pass through Virginia — often carrying pathogens and diseases with them.

“It spreads rapidly and makes the birds typically very very sick,” Broaddus said. “It often does affect the birds enough that it does lead to death.”

While the disease is commonly fatal to birds, it poses minimal physical health risks to humans. It can, however, devastate those who rely on the poultry industry for their livelihood.

“It’s especially significant for our commercial, our poultry industry,” Broaddus said. “Virginia has a large agriculture industry and poultry is the largest single component of the agriculture industry, so it can be really devastating [for] farmers if their flock were to get infected.”

Despite avian influenza already making its way to Central Virginia for the new flu season, Broaddus said it’s not too late to take precautionary measures for one’s own coop.

According to Broaddus, practicing biosecurity principles is paramount in the fight against highly pathogenic diseases. Those who interact with any type of domestic bird are encouraged to keep their farming equipment sanitary and stationary — meaning tools should not leave the area in which they’re used.

Additionally, contact between domestic birds and wild birds should be limited, if not, entirely eliminated. Waterfowl like ducks and geese are particularly notorious for spreading diseases to domestic birds.

People who routinely come in contact with birds should also be aware of the state of those they interact with and look for signs of health or illness.

“Chickens will act, what we consider as a veterinarian, to call ‘depressed,'” Broaddus said. “Their body posture is just kind of down. They’re not looking up, they’re not feeling good. You can tell they’re not feeling well.”

To further the effort in the fight against avian influenza, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages community members to visit this link for more information on biosecurity and how people can help “defend the flock.”

For more information on regulations regarding owning chickens in Richmond, click here.