Waterfowl migrations are a key time for watching HPAI in Ohio.

Moving forward after HPAI confirmed in Ohio

By Matt Reese 

In September, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was confirmed in Ohio. The virus was detected in a backyard flock in Ashland County and a 3 million-bird commercial chicken flock in Defiance County. HPAI has since been found in backyard flocks in Allen, Williams, Portage, and Summit counties. 

The positive detections were confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). The samples were first tested at the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and confirmed at the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. HPAI is a highly contagious virus that spreads quickly and can be fatal to flocks and devastating to poultry owners, both commercial and non-commercial. HPAI can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and is carried by free flying waterfowl such as ducks, geese, and shorebirds. The current cases have been introduced during the natural migration season. 

“We were fortunate in the spring that it mostly skipped over us, but now in the fall we have a commercial flock in Defiance County and then we have some backyard flocks around the state as well that are now in response. Everything is being taken care of so hopefully it doesn’t spread,” said Jenna Gregorich, bird health programs manager for the Ohio Poultry Association. “The fall migration started early this year. Early September is when we started having issues here in Ohio. We keep an eye on the migration but it can vary with weather patterns. Hurricane Ian may deter where some of these birds were flying or how they were moving. A lot of it depends on weather from year-to-year. It’s always kind of a guessing game. When water starts freezing, hopefully that means we will be a little bit more in the clear.” 

ODA information regarding HPAI in Ohio.

One tool Ohio’s poultry industry is using to monitor the seasonal migration is birdcast.info that features migration forecasts predicted by Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For example, on Oct. 1, Ohio was on the fringe of the highest migratory activity in the continental U.S. with a predicted 397 million birds flying overnight starting 3 hours after sunset. 

“Birdcast is a good tool so we can keep an eye on things. It shows the live migration of wild waterfowl. A lot of our producers have been keeping a close eye on that, and losing sleep over it as well, just seeing the amounts of birds flying over. We also work with our resources with ODNR and Wildlife Services and they share what they’re seeing. Those things come in handy so we can know when to button down a little bit closer,” Gregorich said. “Our producers are following the highest and strictest biosecurity possible right now. Watching that migration gives us an idea of when the more heightened risk times are approaching. Usually when those wild waterfowl migrations are their highest, a week from then is when we can start to potentially see birds getting sick. It takes about a week for birds once they’ve been exposed to start getting sick from HPAI.” 

In the cases where HPAI has been discovered in Ohio, the situation has been quickly controlled. State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the properties were depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. Federal and State partners are working jointly on additional surveillance and testing in areas around the affected flocks. Surveillance activities will be conducted in a 10-kilometer zone around the infected premises.

“It is such a difficult situation for the producers to have to put the birds down. It is a very challenging time for all involved. The key component is speed to respond because we just don’t want the virus to spread,” Gregorich said. “The quicker we can respond to an event, the quicker we can eliminate that virus and stop the virus from potentially expanding and spreading off of the farm.” 

With high stakes for Ohio’s poultry producers, minimizing and controlling HPAI has been an industry wide effort. 

“The producers have been working very closely with the Department of Agriculture and USDA. They’ve been cooperating and, considering the stressful circumstances, everybody’s been wonderful to work with. They all understand the potential of this virus spreading to multiple locations and are doing everything they can prepare and prevent that from happening,” she said. “So far, knock on wood, it has not spread to any other sites from a previously infected site. All of the new cases are strictly coming from wild waterfowl and new introductions. We’re not spreading it down road from site to site. Our group of poultry industry producers in Ohio is wonderful. They’re in constant communication with me to find out more information on biosecurity tips and talking amongst each other. They may be competitors in some respects, but we’re all in this together. Nobody wants to get it and potentially spread it to their neighbors. Everybody is communicating what they’re doing to try to make sure we’re all on the same page. Biosecurity truly is a team effort.” 

County fairs, including Ashland County, debated how to handle poultry shows in the wake of HPAI as well. 

“The Department of Agriculture has not canceled any shows, whether it be a fair or other poultry shows going on around the state. The poultry shows that have canceled have been a decision from the fair board and we think that’s the right way to do it at this point,” Gregorich said. “We are really just trying to promote the message of biosecurity. Especially if you have a pond on site and you are letting your birds out around the pond or have any involvement with wild waterfowl, that is a very high-risk situation. Try to keep birds indoors or inside penned up away from any exposure to wild birds and away from a pond where they can potentially have any kind of contact with the virus.” 

It is also important to note that HPAI is not a concern for humans.  

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that this is not a disease of concern for humans. The products, chicken, turkey, eggs, they’re all safe to eat as long as you cook them at the regular temperature,” Gregorich said. “There’s no public health risk at this time from this strain of avian influenza, so we really want to drive that point home. Poultry products are still safe.” 

The ODA emphasizes no human cases have been detected in the United States. Products from any HPAI-affected flocks are prohibited from entering the food system. Proper handling and cooking of all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F is recommended as a general food safety precaution. 

Biosecurity and best management practices for HPAI include: 

•    Prevent contact with wild birds and waterfowl. Keep birds indoors when possible.
•    Keep visitors to essential personnel only. Only allow those who care for poultry to have contact with them and make sure they follow biosecurity principles.
•    Wash hands before and after contact with live poultry. Use soap and water. If using a hand sanitizer, first remove manure, feathers, and other materials from hands.
•    Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) and/or disinfectant footbaths for anyone having contact with your flock. If using a footbath, remove all droppings, mud or debris from boots and shoes using a long-handled brush BEFORE stepping in. Always keep it clean.
•    Establish a rodent and pest control program. Deliver, store, and maintain feed, ingredients, bedding, and litter to limit exposure to and contamination from wild animals.
•    Use drinking water sourced from a contained supply (well or municipal system). Do not use surface water for drinking or cleaning.
•    Clean and disinfect tools and equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility. Trucks, tractors, tools, and equipment should be cleaned and disinfected prior to entering or exiting the property. Do not move or reuse anything that cannot be cleaned.
•    Look for signs of illness. Monitor egg production and death loss, discoloration and/or swelling of legs, wattles and combs, labored breathing, reduced feed/water consumption. 

For more from ODA on HPAI, visit: https://agri.ohio.gov/divisions/animal-health/resources/02.25.2022HPAIUpdate. If a flock has high unexplained/abnormal mortality, contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture at (614) 728-6220 or after hours at (888) 456-3405.

Check Also

Drought conditions expanding in Ohio

By Aaron Wilson, Ohio State University Extension Drought conditions continue to expand across Ohio. As …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.