Dr. Richard Wilkes, State Veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), says that while Virginia has been actively preparing its response to an avian influenza (A.I.) outbreak since 2002, the routine preparedness has taken on some increased purpose and vigor this year. In 2002 Virginia had an A.I. outbreak that spread to six counties and caused the destruction of 4.75 million birds to stop the spread of the disease.
In December 2014 and January 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture reported the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses in wild birds in a few states. Since the beginning of the year, commercial as well as backyard poultry flocks in Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have tested positive for the H5N2 strain of avian flu. For up-to-date information on findings, view the list of Current Highly Pathogenic H5 Avian Influenza Outbreaks.
Wilkes says that VDACS and the state’s poultry industry have been vigilant in both prevention techniques and anticipated response since 2002. After that outbreak Virginia established the Virginia Poultry Disease Task Force that meets quarterly to review the plan for response in the event of an outbreak. The Task Force has done an exercise every three years to practice how it would respond to such an outbreak. The latest meeting in March 2015 was scheduled according to that calendar before the current outbreak began.
Last week, on April 15, VDACS’ Harrisonburg Livestock Inspectors and a Poultry Specialist inspected, serviced and familiarized themselves with a decontamination trailer located in Rockingham County. This portable trailer allows people to shower in and out of disease-infected premises on site. That is one of the biosecurity precautions that will be activated in an emergency.
Standard biosecurity procedures include wearing disposable boots or dipping footware in a disinfectant bath when entering and leaving a poultry house, limiting access to such houses to essential personnel only; disinfecting tires when a service vehicle leaves one farm to go to another and cleaning any equipment that has been in contact with poultry. Poultry owners from one farm should avoid mingling with residents of other poultry farms as much as possible to prevent tracking the virus among farms. Contract poultry growers should also follow all biosecurity instructions from their contracting companies.
Other preparedness activities include very close scrutiny on imported poultry and poultry products; they may only enter Virginia under special permit if coming from a control area in another state. The state also has mobilized the A.I. Incident Management Team. Members are conducting a tabletop exercise today, April 24, in Harrisonburg.
All poultry owners should report any unusual increases in poultry illnesses or deaths to one of VDACS’ Regional Animal Health Laboratories: Harrisonburg, 540.209.9130; Lynchburg 434.200.9988; Warrenton, 540.316.6543; or Wytheville, 276.228.5501. Poultry owners may obtain disease information and assistance at those same offices.
In addition to all that VDACS and the poultry industry are doing, bird owners need to practice strict biosecurity at their homes or farms. “Good biosecurity is the best prevention and quick response is the key to keeping the disease from spreading, should it appear here,” said Dr. Wilkes. “Poultry owners are the best protection their birds have. Making biosecurity a part of their daily routine while caring for their birds can decrease the chance of A.I. showing up on their doorsteps.
Key biosecurity advice for poultry owners:
- Keep your distance– Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds, especially waterfowl and shore birds.
- Keep it clean– Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools and equipment. Have designated clothing and footwear that you only wear in your poultry house or farm.
- Don’t haul disease homeand be sure to clean vehicles and cages whenever traveling.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor– Avoid sharing tools and equipment with other bird owners.
- Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases– Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease.
- Always buy from a reliable source – The National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) offers voluntary disease certifications, and chicks from a hatchery that have been certified as disease free are less likely to introduce diseases onto your farm.
- Consider testing birds or knowing the flock NPIP status for diseases of concern before adding them to your flock.
- Report sick birds– Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths to VDACS.
Poultry event organizers also need to observe good biosecurity. They should take steps to (1) minimize disease transmission through the use of footbaths, cleaning and disinfecting boots and crates/cages; and (2) keep track of event participants with poultry so they can notify participants quickly if one of the birds at the event is diagnosed with A.I.
This particular strain of H5N2 does not affect people. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills any bacteria and viruses. People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, they should wash their hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
For more information about biosecurity measures and plans, contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at 804.692.0601 or a local Office of Veterinary Services at the Regional Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory in your area.