Keeping Poultry Flocks Safe from Avian Influenza

Chicken, Rooster

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza showed up this week in Indiana, Virginia, and Kentucky. Denise Spears is communications director for the Indiana Board of Animal Health. She says Indiana’s outbreak began in commercial turkey flocks.

“We’re dealing with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the H5N1 strain, in a commercial poultry flock in southern Indiana is Dubois County, which is our top turkey producing county in the state of Indiana. What we’ve done is establish what’s called the control area. It’s a ten-kilometer circle around the farm that has been affected, and all of the commercial flocks within that circle have been quarantined. If you count the flock that was affected, there are 18 total commercial flocks. While they’re under quarantine, they’re required to test weekly for avian influenza, and they’ve been doing that regularly. Now they’ve gone through their second round of testing, so we are also reaching out to small flock owners or backyard birds and hobby flocks and trying to get them tested as well.”

On any given day, Spears says biosecurity is important to the success of poultry operations. Poultry producers need to heighten their vigilance to make sure it stays out of their flocks, regardless of how big or small they may be.

“We preach biosecurity a lot around here, and it’s really important especially when you’re talking with smaller flocks that will have birds outside. Avian influenza is carried and spread pretty easily by migratory waterfowl like ducks and geese, and when you get into late winter, early spring, they’re starting to move, and they shed the virus in their droppings. So, you can tell that it’s very easy to get it in the environment and around. It’s important any time of the year but especially now when we’ve had a few positive cases in some other states, so now is the time for everybody who owns poultry to be on high alert, whether you’re a large commercial-sized or a small backyard holder.”

Spears talks about important biosecurity reminders for poultry producers.

“Well, it’s really important to limit traffic in and out of your poultry house. Only the people who need to be there should be going in and out because it’s very easy to track in virus particle on your shoes, on your clothing. Even thinking about the traffic on and off the site, you can move it with your vehicle on the tires, floorboards could get contaminated where you’re getting in and out. Maybe they’ve been to a neighbor’s place or public place or something like that, and it can easily track those virus particles home because, as I said, it’s spread in the droppings of birds and so it can get in the environment very easily. Of course, we always recommend folks have special clothes or shoes that they wear when they’re around the birds. When you go in and out of the house, put on special boots or boot covers that are just preserved for that purpose only. Don’t be wearing them into town, over to visit your neighbors, or out in general because that’s just, again, another opportunity you can literally track it home and back into your flock. So, all of those are really important.”

She talks about the signs of disease that poultry producers should watch for in their flocks.

“A drop in egg production, unexplained sudden death, lack of energy or appetite, they quit drinking, quit eating, sneezing, coughing, all of those things could be an indication of avian flu. And so, if you’re a commercial producer, contact your veterinarian, and if you are a small flock owner, call the USDA Healthy Birds Hotline and report it because they can get connected with an area veterinarian from the state or the federal agencies that can help do an assessment and see if the birds need to be tested.”

If producers take their flocks off the farm for any reason, such as a poultry show, they need to be isolated from other birds when they return. That gives poultry farmers a chance to watch for any signs of infection.

The CDC website says no human infections with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A viruses have been detected in the U.S. She says this isn’t a food safety issue.

“A bigger question that comes up more frequently is folks will ask if it’s a food safety issue and is it still safe to eat the eggs and eat your poultry meat? And the answer is yes, it’s still safe because the virus is not spread through meat and eggs, so that’s not a threat in that way.”

%d bloggers like this: