The USDA confirmed a new strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza was identified in a commercial turkey flock in southern Indiana last week, sparking fears that the virus which decimated poultry flocks in the Midwest last year could make a resurgence in a mutated form.
The H5N2 avian influenza resulted in the death of more than 48 million turkeys and chickens during last summer’s outbreak. Some died due to the virus; many more were depopulated to control its spread. Scientists believe the virus is spread to domestic poultry from droppings left by wild birds traveling along migratory paths.
This latest outbreak affected 10 farms in Dubois County, Ind., where more than 190,000 turkeys have been killed. As USDA officials work to contain the outbreak, 245,000 turkeys and 156,000 chickens are slated for euthanasia. In this instance, the virus was identified as H7N8, a variety not yet seen among wild birds.
In North Carolina, which ranks second and third in the nation for turkey and poultry production respectively, agriculture officials have kept a close eye on bird flu outbreaks. The virus has not been detected in NC, but fears that it would spread during the fall migratory season prompted the Department of Agriculture to ban live poultry shows and require all chicken owners to register their flocks.
After several months with no sign of the disease, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler recently revisited that decision, announcing in early January his office would cease both the poultry show ban and the registration effort. He wrote in a press release:
I promised at the beginning that we would review the ban in January, and now it looks as if it is safe to go ahead and lift the restrictions.
While we are allowing public poultry swap meets and shows to resume, we will consider putting the ban back in place if the national situation changes. Our commercial poultry industry is integral to our state’s economy and we must also protect more than 4,000 small flocks.
In response to the outbreak in Indiana, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is offering biosecurity tips for small flock owners and those with pastured poultry:
We continue to urge strong biosecurity measures to protect your flocks. When the 2015 outbreaks in the Midwest occurred, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Agent, Dan Campeau, shared some information on best practices to maintain biosecurity. He states that for pastured poultry “it would be best to make sure that your poultry does not have access to any farm ponds or areas adjacent to farm ponds where ducks and geese have possibly defecated. (Growers) may need to think about fencing your farm ponds out so your domestic birds do not have access to ponds or grass around ponds.”
The CFSA and NCDA recommend small flock owners:
- Have a separate set of clothes and shoes to do your poultry chores in.
- Make sure you change footwear BEFORE you do your flock chores, especially after going to your local feed store.
- Keep your flocks secure and AWAY from farm ponds and any grassy areas around farm ponds where wild waterfowl might be present.
- Do not allow visitors to go into your poultry yards.
- Call the NCDA vet division if you have sick birds and be prepared to take sick birds to the closest NCDA Diagnostic laboratory.