Avian influenza strain calls for flock protection

Chicken farmers throughout Pennsylvania are being encourage to take steps to protect their chickens and turkeys from a highly contagious form of Avian influenza.

While Pennsylvanians are actively taking measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, chicken farmers now are being encourage to take steps to protect their chickens and turkeys from a highly contagious form of Avian influenza.

State Veterinarian Dr. Kevin Brightbill is urging Pennsylvania’s poultry industry, including backyard bird owners, to step up their biosecurity practices as East Asia and Europe report cases of a highly-pathogenic Avian influenza.

“Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is reported to be circulating in East Asia and Europe including the countries of Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Vietnam. HPAI is known to spread rapidly and be fatal for chickens and turkeys.

The last outbreak of HPAI in Pennsylvania, H5N2 in 1983, resulted in the loss of more than 17 million chickens, turkeys, and guinea fowl to contain and eradicate the disease.

Written biosecurity plans are good, but they are only effective when deliberately acted upon, day in and day out, by you and every farm-hand,” Brightbill said. “They not only safeguard your farm and your flock from high consequence disease, but may enhance the productivity and long-term sustainability of your farm.”

Pennsylvania poultry producers should limit exposure of poultry to wild birds through confinement rearing and other biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of introduction of avian influenza virus from wild birds.

Such practices are key to decreasing the risk of circulating strains of Avian Influenza from evolving into highly pathogenic forms.

Recent detection by USDA Wildlife Services during routine wild bird surveillance of migratory waterfowl in Washington County detected H4N8 Low Pathogenic North American wild bird lineage virus in a mallard duck, which confirms avian influenza is circulating in Pennsylvania and producers should be on-guard to protect their flocks.

Biosecurity basics for poultry producers include:

•Allowing only essential personnel to access your property and your birds. Disinfect any vehicles that enter your farm.

•Not lending or borrowing equipment from other farms. Bring only cleaned and disinfected items into your bird area.

•Avoiding contact with other poultry. If you cannot avoid contact, change clothes and shoes before working with your own birds.

•Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering your bird area.

•Using footbaths when entering or leaving your bird housing (change disinfectant frequently), or wearing disposable boot covers.

•Keeping poultry separate and away from wild birds. Don’t let them share water sources or have access to common areas frequented by wild birds.

•Eliminating standing water on your farm and cleaning up feed spills to avoid attracting wild birds.

For more information about good bird safety practices, visit healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

Poultry owners are further advised to watch for these signs of illness in their birds and immediately report sick or dying animals:

•Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock

•Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge

•Watery and green diarrhea

•Lack of energy and poor appetite

•Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs

•Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head

•Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs

•Ruffled feathers, listlessness, lethargy.

Poultry producers with sick or dying birds should immediately report them to Pennsylvania’s state veterinarian by calling (717) 772-2852 and press option 1.

“Don’t wait for tomorrow – take steps today to prevent catastrophic loss of flock and your livelihood,” Brightbill emphasized. “Review your biosecurity plans, strengthen them, and retrain your farm hands by working with your herd or flock veterinarian.”

Producers with questions about biosecurity planning are encouraged to contact Pennsylvania’s Center for Poultry and Livestock Excellence for resources.

For information as it relates to agriculture during COVID-19 mitigation in Pennsylvania, visit agriculture.pa.gov/COVID.

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