Poultry farms taking steps to prevent avian influenza

economic-forecast-headerVirginia officials have urged commercial poultry farmers and backyard flock owners to observe strict biosecurity measures in light of avian influenza outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest, California and Midwestern states.

The H5N2 strain of the virus has been diagnosed in those parts of the country since December 2014, raising concerns that it will spread to poultry on the East Coast. It appears to be spread by wild waterfowl.

Virginia experienced a major avian flu outbreak in 2002 and an isolated incident on one farm in 2007.

Earlier this month, State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Wilkes advised poultry farm operators to keep unnecessary visitors off their farms. Family members, veterinarians and individuals providing services or delivering supplies should wash and disinfect footwear, vehicle tires and any equipment that enters and exits poultry houses. Wilkes also urged poultry farmers to avoid mingling with residents of other poultry farms and to prevent exposure of their birds to wild waterfowl.

“This is the time, if ever there were one, to keep your birds under cover,” he said. “Good biosecurity is the best prevention, and quick response is the key to keeping the disease from spreading, should it appear here.”

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farmers’ advocacy group, has instructed its employees to avoid unnecessary visits to poultry farms if at all possible and to conduct business with poultry growers at alternate locations.

In a March 23 phone conference with farmers on the VFBF Poultry Advisory Committee, Dr. Charles Broaddus of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Veterinary Services noted that the virus diagnosed elsewhere in the United States “has not caused any human health concerns.” At the same time, VDACS said in a March 12 news release that people should avoid contact with sick or 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 other birds.

Broaddus noted that the virus thrives in cool, wet conditions, though “we’ve had AI in the summertime too” in Virginia. It is “probable,” he said, “that we will see the disease on the East Coast at some time.”

So far it has affected commercial turkey flocks and backyard poultry.

Virginia’s 2002 avian influenza outbreak infected 197 farms and resulted in nearly 5 million birds being destroyed to eradicate the virus. Turkeys accounted for more than three-quarters of the bird losses.

Robert Mills, a Pittsylvania County poultry grower and chairman of the VFBF poultry committee, said it is in producers’ best interest to follow state biosecurity guidelines. “It’s not here,” he said of the H5N2 virus, “but we want to try to make sure it doesn’t get here.”



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