Poultry industry on alert over avian flu threat

Senior Editor

(May 5, 2015) There’s an urgency in the avian flu alerts that are being issued with increased frequency these days.
And well they should be, according to Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc..
“There have been dozens of cases on the West Coast and in the Mississippi flyway,” said Sattertfield, “involving pheasants, turkeys and egg producers.”
The highly pathogenic avian virus is being carried by geese, ducks and wildfowl in flu-laden manure.
The concentration of the flu outbreaks along the West Coast and moving eastward into the Midwest, “is new to us,” said Satterfield and obviously intensifies that need for the poultry industry here to be on high alert.
Poultry health officials in both Maryland and Virginia have issued calls for increased biosecurity measures by their growers.
Dr. Don Ritter, chairman of DPI’s Poultry Health Committee noted that the flu virus “can be transported over great distances by waterfowl along their migration routes.”
The Atlantic Flyway covers the area from Maine to Florida, directly over Delmarva chicken farms.
“For these reasons,” Ritter said, “all Delmarva growers and their hired help who have contact with live chickens should avoid contact with waterfowl of any kind.
“This includes hunting of ducks, geese, and swans and visits to ponds/waterways and zoos where waterfowl congregate and are displayed.”
Late last week, a poultry field day scheduled for May 20 in Seaford, Del., was cancelled due to concerns about the spread of the disease.
All commercial Delmarva chicken flocks routinely are tested for avian influenza.
If a flock should test positive, all birds on the infected farm will be depopulated through humane euthanization and composted on the farm.
The process of depopulation, composting, and  cleaning/disinfecting takes  approximately 12  weeks  to  complete.
Thus, an avian influenza-infected farm will be out of chickens for a minimum of three months during which time no income will be generated.
“An avian influenza-infected flock is a tremendous hardship for the affected grower and a possible disaster for the entire Delmarva chicken industry,” Dr. Riitter cautioned.
Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said that while Virginia has been actively preparing its response to an avian influenza outbreak since 2002, “the routine preparedness has taken on some increased purpose and vigor this year.”
In 2002 Virginia had an AI outbreak that spread to six counties and caused the destruction of 4.75 million birds to stop the spread of the disease.
In December 2014 and January 2015, the USDA reported the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in wild birds in a few states.
Since the beginning of the year, commercial as well as backyard poultry flocks in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have tested positive for the H5N2 strain of avian flu.
Dr. Wilkes said that VDACS and the state’s poultry industry have been vigilant in both prevention techniques and anticipated response since 2002.
After that outbreak, Virginia established the Virginia Poultry Disease Task Force that meets quarterly to review the plan for response in the event of an outbreak.
The task force has performed an exercise every three years to practice how it would respond to such an outbreak.
The latest meeting in March 2015 was scheduled according to that calendar before the current outbreak began, Wilkes noted.
Standard biosecurity procedures include wearing disposable boots or dipping footware in a disinfectant bath when entering and leaving a poultry house, limiting access to such houses to essential personnel only; disinfecting tires when a service vehicle leaves one farm to go to another and cleaning any equipment that has been in contact with poultry.
Contract poultry growers are encouraged to also follow all biosecurity instructions from their contracting companies.