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Northwest Iowa Dairy Outlooks

A local discussion of current science and issues concerning dairying in northwest iowa

As of Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Arkansas. The flock of over 40,000 turkeys was located within the Mississippi flyway where this strain of avian influenza has previously been identified in one turkey flock in Minnesota and two turkey flocks in Missouri.

Samples from the Arkansas turkey flock were tested at the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the disease. Arkansas officials quarantined the affected premises and surviving birds on the property will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. Birds from the flock will not enter the food system.

Industry leaders agree that the pathogen could be found in Texas at some point.

Worldwide, there are many strains of avian influenza (AI) virus that can cause varying degrees of clinical illness in poultry. AI viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds. Migratory waterfowl have proved to be a natural reservoir for the less infectious strains of the disease.

AI viruses can be classified as highly pathogenic (HPAI) or low pathogenic (LPAI) strains based on the severity of the illness they cause. HPAI is an extremely infectious and fatal form of the disease that, once established, can spread rapidly from flock to flock and has also been known to affect humans.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low.

No human infections with the virus have been detected at this time. The Arkansas Livestock & Poultry Commission is working directly with poultry workers at the affected facility to ensure that they are taking the proper precautions. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165°F kills bacteria and viruses

These virus strains can travel in wild birds without them appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds. All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593

The clinical signs of birds affected with all forms of AI may show one or more of the following: Sudden death without clinical signs; Lack of energy and appetite; Decreased egg production; Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks; Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; Nasal discharge; Coughing, sneezing; Lack of coordination; and Diarrhea. It is important to note that many birds with LPAI may not show any signs of disease.

Exposure of backyard poultry to migratory waterfowl and wild birds plus the movement of poultry, poultry equipment, and people pose risks for introducing AI into local flocks. Once introduced, the disease can be spread from bird to bird by direct contact. AI viruses can also be spread by manure, equipment, vehicles, egg flats, crates, and people whose clothing or shoes have come in contact with the virus. AI viruses can remain viable at moderate temperatures for long periods in the environment and can survive indefinitely in frozen material.

Officials have been quick to respond with surveillance, voluntary testing and outreach, but discovered a new challenge with the number of urban chickens and other backyard birds in Central Texas. The Texas Department of Agriculture knows how many commercial poultry operations exist around the state, but that’s not the case with city chickens.

“Backyard bird owners are often hesitant to come forward to report deaths and illness because they are not sure who to contact, they are not sure if their concerns matter, and they may fear quarantine and lose of their entire flock,” notes Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent Fred M. Hall in Williamson County. Information on how to protect local flocks is available on the Williamson County Extension website at: http://counties.agrilife.org/williamson/files/2015/03/ProtectYourBirdFromAI_Eng.pdf.

“We cannot stress it enough: Biosecurity!  Biosecurity!  Biosecurity!” says Hall. Here are the best management practices for flock owners:

  • Foot traffic into your barns is one way the virus can be introduced to your flock. Limit overall traffic to your facility if possible.
  • Clean boots, coveralls and equipment after each use and make visitors wear clean boots and clothes that have not been exposed to other birds.
  • Make sure your barns are tight from birds entering your barns.
  • Avoid convenient stores, feed stores or farm stores where farmers, tourists and hunters frequent.
  • Avoid contact with water fowl and their feces. This includes the water they are in, even if the birds are not present.
  • Remember that highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza can travel in wild birds without the birds appearing sick.
  • Do not stack, store or expose any of your equipment or supplies outside where manure could be deposited from birds flying over.

The virus’s incubation period is 21 days which means bird owners need to be especially vigilant for three weeks if exposure is suspected.

For more information on protecting your birds go to: http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/ or call the Williamson County Extension office at 512.943.3300.

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