Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Avian influenza – spread the word, protect your birds

Dr. Joe Baker

Fall is coming and with it a renewed risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. But first, some background on why this is such a serious cause for concern.

In the fall of 2014, Washington became the first state to have flocks infected with highly-pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. When the outbreak was over, four small, non-commercial poultry flocks, a game bird farm and a falconry were all affected.

None of our large commercial poultry operations became infected, but they still suffered as a result of the actions required in response to the infected flocks. The ability of the commercial operations to export poultry and poultry products was hampered. In one case, tens of thousands of day-old chicks were destroyed because Canada refused them entry after we established our first quarantine zone around two small, non-commercial flocks in Benton County.

As this illustrates, all poultry owners in Washington are part of the poultry industry, and disease in even small flocks can directly or indirectly affect flocks large and small throughout the state. It is vital that all poultry owners recognize this and take the steps to protect their birds and others, too.

The cases of avian influenza in Washington and neighboring states in the fall were the tip of what turned out to be an iceberg of historic proportions, as highly pathogenic avian influenza found its way into commercial turkey and layer operations in the Midwest, creating a massive animal disease outbreak and control response. Federal costs alone are expected to reach a billion dollars while the disease and depopulation led to the loss of more than 10 percent of our nation’s layer hen inventory and more than 7 percent of our turkey inventory. It will take at least two years for the poultry industry to recover and some producers will be put out of business permanently.

Risk returns with migration cycle

The risk that avian influenza will return to our state rides on the wings of migratory waterfowl that have once again begun to arrive from northern latitudes to spend the winter here. Unfortunately, these waterfowl species tend to carry avian influenza viruses with no ill effects, and can spread the disease to other susceptible birds through their droppings. Particularly vulnerable are the small hobby, exhibition, layer and organic flocks scattered all over our state, where the birds are allowed to spend significant time outside. 
Disinfectant for footgear outside
a bird flu town hall meeting.

The Animal Services Division of WSDA is trying to raise awareness of the threat HPAI poses to all poultry, and the biosecurity measures that flock owners should be putting in place to help protect their birds from the disease. Check out our updated website at agr.wa.gov/birdflu for information to help bird owners, no matter how large or small your flock.

There is no vaccine currently authorized for birds and there is no treatment for the disease, so flocks hit with HPAI must be euthanized in order to prevent the virus spreading. That is why prevention through good biosecurity is so important.

I encourage you to visit our webpage, look through the materials and formulate YOUR plan for protecting your birds this fall and winter. As ever, if you have questions or need help, you can also email ahealth@agr.wa.gov or call 800-606-3056.