Avian Influenza and Biosecurity: Prevention in the Coming Months

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Barns and Storehouses (photo via Flickr/Image Catalog and unsplash.com)

The Indiana outbreak on Jan. 15 caused around 450,000 birds to be euthanized and has caused the state to test birds up to 20 km away out of concern. Currently, there are no outbreaks of the high pathogenic strain (HPAI), but the low pathogenic strain (LPAI) is still common, despite Indiana culling even healthy birds as a preventative measure.  In the coming months, biosecurity will be key in preventing farmers from Eastern Oklahoma and other areas from having an outbreak and should become a priority.

According to Dr. Josh Payne, OSU Extension’s poultry waste management specialist, contaminated food recently brought in from feed stores is a major source of contamination.  Farmers may take care of their birds and then go into a feed store without properly decontaminating themselves or their equipment.  If they have infected birds and handle the food or bring contaminated insects near it accidentally, the food can become contaminated and infect the birds of farmers who buy it.

Another major source of contamination is the farmers’ not wearing protective equipment such as masks, special boots, and gloves and not showering and changing clothes after work.  Also, they are encouraged to wash their trucks if they have penetrated the inner perimeter of the farm where their birds are located.

Unfortunately, signals from the Deptartment of Agriculture have been mixed with regards to the minimum biosecurity measures that need to be taken.  Due to this and the fact that instructions often seem more aimed at university-level agricultural specialists due to the language used, many farmers ignore the guidelines. Rewriting the guidelines for farmers who have a high-school education or less and prioritizing biosecurity requirements according to level of risk will help keep Oklahoma’s farms free from HPAI.

Detecting Avian Influenza

Outbreak of Avian Influenza H7N8 in Indiana Indicative of Larger Problems within the Industry

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Healthy chicken (photo via Flickr/Bernard Spragg).

On Jan. 15, an outbreak of a new highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) known as H7N8 appeared in Indiana. More cases were quickly confirmed on Jan. 16, and around 450,000 birds were euthanized. The new strain is believed to have mutated from one of the low pathogenic avian influenzas (LPAI) carried from Asia via Alaska by migratory birds.

When I recently attended a seminar given by an OSU poultry waste management specialist, Dr. Josh Payne, it quickly became evident why this occurred.  LPAI regularly occurs throughout the world now, but due to the number of birds kept in close proximity on industrial farms, the mutation rate can accelerate. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of birds may pass this virus to each other continuously and what was originally a relatively mild disease can become dangerous in months.

Unfortunately, this is believed to have occurred in Indiana, where the LPAI was considered to be non-threatening until six months passed and birds began dying.  These new losses indicate that biosecurity in many areas of the United States is still lacking. Although Dr. Payne indicated that people in Iowa had learned the value of biosecurity after the outbreak last summer, many producers and workers in other areas are still in denial.

The common attitude in Oklahoma seems to be that the virus will never come here when clearly LPAI is already here. In order to prevent damage to Oklahoma’s poultry industry, the level of biosecurity practices followed by workers should vary according to the level of the threat. A more cautious approach with regard to feed, trucks, wild birds, insects, and rats must be taken into consideration by producers, as these are prime sources of contagion.

 

Indiana Outbreak Facts