MDA officials give reminder for possible AI outbreak

Associate Editor

(Jan. 12, 2016) Maryland agricultural officials reminded local media last week that a potentially catastrophic wave of avian influenza may still be coming for the state — soon or possibly in the spring.
“It could be devastating to the poultry industry, our largest sector,” state agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder said on a Jan. 7 conference call.
An abnormally warm fall and early winter has kept many waterfowl, including those potentially infected with the viral disease, from migrating south over the Delmarva region from Canada, said Dr. Michael Radebaugh, state veterinarian.
But as the temperature dips, more of them should arrive in the region on their way south, he said.
They’ll return in the spring.
Avian influenza rattled the national poultry industry last year, affecting roughly 48 million birds across the Midwest, Radebaugh said.
It cost $1 billion to manage the outbreak, and another $1 billion was lost in exports, he said, making it the most costly agricultural disaster in U.S. history.
Maryland has more than 2,000 poultry farms and the most dense concentration of birds in the country if not the world entirely, Radebaugh said, making it a ripe target for avian influenza.
The Atlantic flyway — one of four bird migratory patterns that traverse the country from north to south — is the only flyway that hasn’t seen the disease yet.
Bartenfelder and other agricultural officials held the media briefing to remind reporters that if a breakout does occur, affected farms will be quarantined and access restricted. The identity of the farms and farmers affected will also be kept secret.
“We need you to be part of the solution, not part of the problem in spreading the virus,” the secretary said. “If there is an outbreak in Maryland, all official information will be coming from MDA.”
But Delmarva has benefited from watching the disease spread across the Midwest, said Julie Oberg, a department spokesperson. A USDA official said Maryland’s preparedness is “light years ahead of the Midwest,” which didn’t have advanced warning of the flu’s arrival, Oberg said.
Were a breakout to occur in a farm or area, it would be quarantined and movement of poultry equipment would be restricted.
Effected flocks would be humanely euthanized, and state officials would test and monitor wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine zone.
The state and the USDA will also work to confirm the virus is dead in the affected locations.
The process can shut down a poultry farm for two to four weeks.
State officials urged farmers to continue practicing biosecurity procedures, including wearing clean clothes and washing your hands before you handle poultry.
Others include cleaning cages and changing water and food daily.
Additional preparedness information can be found on the state’s avian flu website at
Poultry is Maryland’s largest agricultural sector, Radebaugh said, generating 41 percent of its agricultural receipts or $982 million per year.