Avian influenza confirmed near Mississippi flyway; poultry specialist urges vigilance

By Mary Lou Peter

MANHATTAN, Kan. – With several cases of avian influenza confirmed in four states near the Mississippi flyway, Kansas State University’s Scott Beyer is urging Kansas poultry producers to be vigilant and take precautions.

Avian influenza has been confirmed in poultry flocks in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia, plus on a turkey farm in Wisconsin.

Beyer, a poultry specialist with K-State Research and Extension, said he’s been fielding calls from Kansas producers regarding what to watch for and steps they can take to keep their flocks safe.

No avian flu outbreaks have been reported in Kansas so far this year. The outbreaks in the states affected have resulted in the euthanasia of more than 200,000 birds in efforts to keep the virus from spreading.

Avian influenza outbreaks have occurred in both commercial and backyard poultry flocks, he said, mostly near the Mississippi flyway as wild migratory waterfowl return to summer loafing areas in the north. Commercial flocks have implemented tight biosecurity programs, but there are risks that owners of small flocks should recognize because most are kept free range.

“With avian flu,” Beyer said, “we have to think of an outbreak in the economic sense, because even if one bird is confirmed to have the disease, that whole particular flock, whether it’s 10 birds or 300, will be euthanized to try to stop it from spreading.”

At highest risk are small flocks that have domesticated waterfowl mixed in with the poultry. These birds will attract and possibly mix with migratory fowl which could easily transfer the infection to the home flock, Beyer said. He offered several tips:

  • Keep yourself and your pets out of ponds and away from banks around them.
  • Don’t go into places where wild birds roost and feed. If you accidently step where you shouldn’t, don’t wear those clothes and shoes around your birds.
  • Keep wild birds away from your flock. The biggest potential threats are birds building nests in the barns and birds that steal food from feeders.
  • Don’t leave food out overnight in feeders. Birds are attracted to eat from the feeders, as are nightly visitors such as mice, rats, opossums and raccoons, which carry Salmonella and E.coli. Who wants other animals stealing expensive feed anyway? Place feed in feeders during the day when poultry are eating, then move it to an inaccessible place overnight. Store feed in rodent-proof containers. Some owners determine how much feed their birds need each day, then fill their feeders with only that much feed each morning so it runs out at the end of the day, leaving the feeders empty.

If an outbreak and subsequent stop-movement order occur, bird swaps, sales and shows may be closed. This does not mean that birds or chicks cannot be purchased or sold to individuals. It normally refers only to events where birds are brought together then allowed to return to farms at the end of an event. An example would be selling live poultry at a farmer’s market or auction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider human health risk from avian influenza to be low, but Beyer said the risk for poultry, especially in an outbreak of the high-pathogenic form of the virus, can be great.

“This is a good time to remember that keeping a closed flock will help reduce your chances of diseases spreading to your birds,” Beyer said.

More information on avian influenza is available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website. K-State Research and Extension has a fact sheet, “Avian Influenza Prevention in Gamebird and Ratite Facilities available online at http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF2114.pdf or at county or district Extension offices (ratites are flightless birds such as ostriches and emus).

Information thanks to Kansas State University Research and Extension.


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