Dr. Charles Hatcher, the Tennessee State Veterinarian, was at the center of the recent flurry of activity with avian influenza when the H7 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was discovered in a commercial facility in the state.
“The state of Tennessee benefitted from the previous states going through the outbreak in 2015. The lessons learned there were critical for what we did,” Hatcher said at yesterday’s National Institute for Animal Agriculture meeting in Columbus. “We knew there was a possibility of this happening because the Mississippi Flyway and the Atlantic Coastal Flyway touch Tennessee. Since 2015 we have been planning. The bombshell hit us and once we determined it was HPAI, our pre-determined plans went into place. We had the incident command structure just like you would have going into war. It is like fighting a war because you have all of these battles.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture announced the discovery of HPAI in early March. A few days later, another Tennessee poultry farm tested positive for a different low pathogenic strain of avian influenza through routine testing. Soon after, Alabama and Kentucky found low path cases as well.
The first key with the HPAI is to contain the area and depopulate.
“We acted quickly. The key with HPAI is to depopulate the birds as quickly as you can. We had it done in less than 24 hours. We established a control zone and we only had one other commercial location that broke with it and it was relatively close,” Hatcher said. “In our situation we think it was a showering of the virus from migratory waterfowl and we had multifocal introductions. In a matter of 10 days we had two high path cases and one low path. The two high path locations were the only ones that spread laterally. All of the others locations had no connections.”
Biosecurity is the best defense and is particularly important in Ohio during migratory season in the Eastern Mississippi Flyway from early March through late May or early June.
“Nothing can really prepare you for this but we were reasonably ready. We are nearing the end of this, I hope. The weather is warming up and we have gone through all of our procedures. After another week or 10 days we hope to be wrapping up the hard part of it,” Hatcher said. “The No. 1 thing you need to think about is biosecurity. The months they are at risk are when migratory waterfowl are moving. You need to sit down and have a plan. You want to separate poultry from exposure to migratory waterfowl.”