Upcoming Avian Influenza Season

Turkey

Poultry on family farms could be exposed because of only having bars between them and the wild birds (via Flickr/Joshua Berry).

In 2015, the first case of avian influenza was reported in April.  This year, agricultural specialists are on high alert and want to prevent the disaster of last year.  In one of the worst animal epidemics in recent years, 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens died and taxpayers lost $950 million.

This Spring, wild waterfowl are expected to pass through the U.S. on their annual migration route back from the Southern Hemisphere.  Government officials, industry leaders and farmers are working to tighten biosecurity measures before their arrival.

Some measures taken in Iowa, the epicenter of last year’s epidemic, include installing showers near the barns, requiring clothing changes and closing the barns to visitors.  The farmers will also watch for symptoms of avian influenza, such as lethargy, decreased water intake and more birds dying suddenly.  Despite this, contamination could still occur because completely preventing exposure from the outside is impossible.

Dust containing feces from wild birds is widespread, and in areas where biosecurity measures are not enforced or when workers choose not to follow procedures, outbreaks are likely to occur.  However, preventing an outbreak from spreading to other farms should be easier this year because state agricultural departments are more prepared.  They have taken measures to prevent the disaster of last year from reoccurring and plan to do everything in their power to take control of avian influenza epidemics this year.

Avian Influenza Season

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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