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USDA: Protecting poultry from avian influenza


Our thoughts have been with the poultry industry these past few weeks as farms in Alabama, Tennessee, and Wisconsin have reported cases of avian influenza. The virus, also known as bird flu, took out 90,500 chickens that were culled over infections at two commercial operations in Tennessee. Eighty four thousand turkeys at a Jennie-O Turkey Store farm near Barron, Wisconsin were confirmed with a low pathogenic H5N2 virus and the virus was recently found in three North Alabama chicken houses.

The virus can infect wild birds (such as ducks, gulls, and shorebirds) and domestic poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). Low Pathogenic or “low path” avian influenza occurs naturally in wild birds and can spread to domestic birds. In most cases it causes no signs of infection or only minor symptoms in birds. These strains are common in the U.S. and around the world. Highly Pathogenic or “high path” avian influenza is often fatal in chickens and turkeys. HPAI spreads rapidly and has a higher death rate in birds than LPAI.

In an effort to prevent an outbreak such as the one in 2014- 2015 (Highly pathogenic bird flu led to the deaths of about 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens), several poultry farmers have already stepped up security efforts across the nation. Here are some biosecurity practices the USDA advises:

  • Keep an “all–in, all-out” philosophy of flock management. Avoid skimming flocks — birds left behind are exposed  to work crews and equipment that could carry poultry disease viruses. Process each lot of birds separately, and clean and disinfect poultry houses between flocks.
  • Protect poultry flocks from coming into contact with wild or migratory birds. Keep poultry away from any source of water that could have been contaminated by wild birds.
  • Permit only essential workers and vehicles to enter the farm.
  • Provide clean clothing and disinfection facilities for employees.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) entering and leaving the farm.
  • Do not loan to, or borrow equipment or vehicles from, other farms.
  • Change footwear and clothing before working with your own flock after visiting another farm or live–bird market. Avoid visiting another bird farm if possible.
  • Do not bring birds from slaughter channels, especially those from live–bird markets, back to the farm.

If avian influenza is detected, farms must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Avian influenza viruses are inactivated by heat and drying and also these viruses are very sensitive to most disinfectants and detergents. The area to be disinfected must be clear of organic material, which greatly increases the resistance of avian influenza virus’ resistance to disinfection.

Finally if birds exhibit clinical signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza or might have been exposed to birds with the disease, producers or bird owners should immediately notify Federal or State animal health officials.

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