Are you at risk for the ‘Bird Flu’ ?

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by
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Are you at risk for the ‘bird flu’ known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza or HPAI? Do you raise home-grown poultry either chickens or turkeys for meat or their eggs in your backyard? If so, this article is for you. The HPAI disease has been found in wild birds, as well as in a few backyard and commercial poultry flocks in other parts of the US.

Since December 2014, HPAI has been identified in the US in 21 states mostly in the mid-west; to date HPAI has not been identified in North Carolina or the Eastern states. NC Agriculture Commissioner, Steve Troxler along with his chief Veterinarian Doug Meckes decided to suspend all NC poultry shows and public live bird sales from August 15January 15 when HPAI is more of a risk for the spread of the disease. The suspension is an attempt to isolate flocks in order to prevent it spreading if the disease were to make it into the state. Large poultry producers are putting emergency plans into place in the event their flocks are contaminated.

Poultry is a big business in NC. Additionally, NC has more than 3,700 backyard flocks; every county has the potential to be affected. The poultry flocks are serviced by feed mills, equipment dealers, veterinarian services, and a number of other related providers, so you can imagine the devastating effect that can trickle down in a community if HPAI were to enter into our backyard and commercial flocks.

The good news is the specific strain of HPAI in the US has not been known to affect humans. USDA is aggressively pursuing identification and eradication of the infected birds so that affected poultry and their products don’t enter the food chain, so poultry products on the market are safe to eat. You can however, expect the cost of eggs, dinning out for breakfast, and products made with eggs, like mayonnaise, to rise in the near future and to stay elevated over the next couple of years.

What birds can be affected by HPAI? HPAI virus can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds.

What can you do to protect yourself and your back yard flock? First, according to NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), know the warning signs of sick birds such as: lack of energy and appetite; a decreased egg production or soft/misshapen eggs; swelling of the head, eyelids and comb; purple discoloration of the wattles, combes and legs; stumbling, falling down birds and diarrhea; and sudden death.

Secondly, keep chickens and turkeys away from ducks and waterfowl that may spread the disease. Keep your flock isolated so the birds can’t make direct contact with your neighbors’ birds. If you have a backyard pond where migrating birds may stop while in migration, keep your chickens away from the water to prevent possible contamination from these migrating birds. Purchase new birds from a reputable source and keep them isolated from the rest of the flock for 30 days. Do not share buckets, equipment or other supplies with other bird owners. When working with your flock, wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling poultry. Be sure to change your clothes and shoes, when you walk in areas where disease may be present. Disinfect cages, tools any other equipment that come in contact with birds and droppings. Report sick and dead birds to state health officials immediately and follow the rules and moratorium set by USDA and NCDA to keep our food chain free of disease. If you suspect your flock may be affected, immediately contact NCDA&CS Veterinary Division at (919) 733-7601 or the USDA hotline at (866) 536-7593.

Being mindful of these sanitation practices and precautions will help to prevent you from being a carrier of the disease and possibly causing a economic disaster to our poultry industry.

Mart Bumgarner, is the 2015 Extension Summer Intern for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Posted on Jul 22, 2015
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