Though it is not present in Ohio, poultry owners should still be on high alert for signs of a novel strain of avian influenza capable of completely wiping out entire commercial flocks, exhibition birds and backyard poultry. While not a concern for humans or for food safety, this strain of avian influenza is devastating for birds and is of significant concern for the poultry industry.
“This strain of avian influenza moves really fast. We have seen complete flocks destroyed within 24 to 48 hours,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association. “If you see any symptoms — snicking, general lethargy, any respiratory symptoms in particular, or what you would consider a higher than normal death loss or sick birds — you need to contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture so they can investigate. Minnesota and Missouri are the closest two states to Ohio where this avian influenza has been discovered.”
In late 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) first confirmed highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI H5) in the Pacific migratory bird flyway. It was confirmed in wild birds and poultry flocks in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The recent announcements of discoveries in commercial turkey flocks in Arkansas, Minnesota and Missouri (all located within the Mississippi flyway) suggest that migratory birds may be carrying the virus east of the Mississippi River and potentially to Ohio.
“This is Eurasian strain of avian influenza. It came into Canada, then down the western U.S. flyway. It is mixing with birds in Mexico and now coming back up into the Mississippi flyway. We are the easternmost part of that flyway in Ohio,” Chakeres said. “There is no avian influenza in Ohio. We continue to partner with USDA on our routine surveillance of all commercial flocks as well as backyard and exhibition poultry.”
To keep the avian influenza out of Ohio, chicken owners and producers of every scale are strongly encouraged to incorporate heightened biosecurity measures.
“Biosecurity is our first, second, and third line of defense. The commercial flocks in the state already have plans in place and are following them. They are very strict, but we are now entering period of heightened biosecurity even on those farms where they are tightening down even further,” Chakeres said. “They are carefully tracking who is coming and going. Certain people that have been around other birds or swine or delivery trucks may not be permitted on the farm. Instead of a 72-hour exclusion for people who have been around other birds or swine, it may be extended to five days. These kinds of measures are also important for urban chickens, backyard flock owners and our exhibition flocks. It is as much of a concern there and we need to follow strict biosecurity.
“It spreads by migratory waterfowl, then people step in the droppings outside and walk into the barn. That is how it could be spread to backyard flocks. Many of those backyard flocks are also outside and exposed to those birds flying by and the elements, so the risk is even greater.”
Exhibition flock owner Mike Stichler has been working closely with poultry shows and exhibitions in Ohio and around the country to curtail the spread of the avian influenza.
“We have been dealing with the shows in Ohio and keeping them informed so they do not take entries from the states involved. There needs to be a lot of communication on this,” Stichler said. “If I go to a show, when I come back I keep the birds isolated for 30 days. Clean your equipment, your boxes you are hauling them in and your vehicle. I have a separate building I put them in after shows. That is best, but not everybody has that. The more you can do to isolate them the better. Be aware of the situation and stay educated on it. If you have questions call the ODA.”
On the farm, Stichler advises small flock owners to consider some additional steps for biosecurity.
“You can limit visitors and use foot baths and change clothes after you go somewhere. The biggest thing is that you just have to observe your birds. If you have had poultry for any amount of time you know when something is wrong. If something doesn’t seem right or they are just a little off, you need to get them checked out,” Stichler said. “Biosecurity is just a good idea anyway. We have had pretty good cooperation and interest in this and that is a good sign.”
There is hope that the warmer weather ahead will curb the problem, but there are still many unknown factors with HPAI H5.
“This strain is a little different, which is why it is a great concern. We think it will be less of an issue with warmer temperatures but we don’t know that yet. Time will tell. This is a very novel strain of avian influenza,” Chakeres said. “Everyone needs to have that heightened sense of awareness. Just be aware of your birds. We do know that poultry products are safe to eat. Thoroughly cook your eggs and poultry products and you will not have a problem.”
No human infections are associated with these viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections to be low.
“It is important to remember there have been no human infections associated with these viruses. It is perfectly safe to keep eating poultry and eggs. Cooking poultry, including game birds, to the proper temperature and preventing cross contamination between raw and cooked food is always recommended to protect against viruses and bacteria,” said Tony Forshey, Ohio’s State Veterinarian. “We have not had any suspect cases in Ohio, but because we are also located within the Mississippi flyway, we want poultry owners to be aware and to take proper precautions. Whether you have a fair project, a backyard flock, or are a commercial producer, you should practice good biosecurity measures and monitor the health of your birds closely, especially if they could come into contact with wild birds or are traveling this spring to poultry shows.”
Forshey said good biosecurity practices for poultry owners include the following:
- Monitor flocks for unusual signs of illness such as “snicking” (sneezing,) a 1% or more decrease in egg production, or an increase in mortality. Other signs to look for are wheezing, lethargy, and depression.
- Practice personal biosecurity and 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.
- Keep unauthorized visitors from having contact with poultry — a good practice whether there is a disease threat or not. Authorized persons should be required to wear protective clothing and shoes before entering a commercial poultry house.
- Avoid contact between domestic birds and wild birds whenever possible due to the likely migratory nature of HPAI H5. These virus strains can travel in wild birds without them appearing sick.
- Clean and disinfect farm vehicles or equipment before moving them on and off the property.
Sick birds or unusual bird deaths should also be immediately reported to the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health at 1-614-728-6220 or through USDA APHIS’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity can be found by visiting www.ohioagriculture.gov and healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.