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.