OMAHA (DTN) -- The highly pathogenic avian influenza hitting poultry has now migrated westward and infected a backyard flock in western Iowa.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reported Wednesday it and Iowa officials have confirmed a positive case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a backyard flock in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. That reflects the most westward expansion of this year's confirmed infections. APHIS on Tuesday had reported a confirmed case in a backyard flock in Connecticut.
Cases of the latest spread of the bird flu have been found in backyard or commercial flocks in at least 15 counties across the country since early February, leading USDA to depopulate more than 1.64 million chickens and turkeys. The largest single flock affected so far involved 1.2 million chickens in New Castle County, Delaware, reported on Feb. 22.
The positive case in Iowa, even in a backyard flock, heightens risks to other, larger commercial operations given that Iowa is the country's largest egg-producing state. The 2015 HPAI outbreak caused 33 million chickens in Iowa, mostly in egg-laying operations, to be depopulated.
HPAI is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among chickens and turkeys through nasal and eye secretions, as well as manure. Avian influenzas are classified as either low or high pathogenic based on the ability of a particular strain to produce the disease in domestic poultry. The virus can be spread in various ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers. Wild birds often do not show signs of illness, but HPAI can be fatal to domestic birds.
Iowa State Veterinarian Jeff Kaisand said on a call Wednesday with reporters the backyard flock -- a combination of fewer than 50 chickens and ducks -- was quarantined and state officials began looking at other potential flocks in a 10-kilometer zone around the flock. Kaisand said there were a few other backyard flocks in that zone, but no commercial operations.
USDA has reported cases in domestic flocks -- by earliest date confirmed -- in Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, New York, Maine, Delaware, Michigan and now Connecticut and Iowa. Cases have been found in six other states in wild birds as well. When cases are found in domestic flocks, USDA and state officials quarantine the premises and birds on the property are depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. USDA is authorized to provide indemnity payments to producers and the destroyed flocks do not enter the food system.
Iowa Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said people should just assume that HPAI is in the wild population. Kaisand said USDA also is increasing surveillance among migratory birds in the Mississippi Flyway, which involves several states in the Mississippi River watershed.
Naig said it is too early to determine whether the finding of HPAI would affect summer bird shows and exhibits such as 4-H events or county fairs. "We're going to have to see how this develops," Naig said.
The growing number of cases, even in backyard flocks, raises concerns that the poultry industry could experience an outbreak comparable to 2015, which USDA considers the largest and most expensive animal-disease outbreak in U.S. history. In that outbreak, 43 million chickens had to be depopulated, including 33 million in Iowa alone. Another 7.4 million turkeys had to be depopulated as well. USDA spent nearly $1 billion for depopulation, disposal and producer indemnity payments in 2015.
In an interview last month with DTN, Kevin Shea, administrator for USDA's APHIS, called on state officials and poultry producers to "double-, triple-, or quadruple-down on the biosecurity message right now." Shea also said at that time a key lesson learned in 2015 is the need to work quickly and improve biosecurity at the farm level. Reporting cases quickly also is critical to minimize the spread, Shea said. "I know it's sometimes an unsatisfying answer. We look for a better answer or a silver bullet. But it's really all about quick detection. Then we can quickly depopulate an infected premises."
With the outbreak hitting Delaware's commercial producers, the Delaware Department of Agriculture on Tuesday issued a warning to poultry owners reminding them that biosecurity is the best way to protect their commercial birds. Wild birds such as starlings, songbirds and vultures can be carriers of the disease but show no signs of illness. Delaware officials warned poultry producers to keep their poultry away from wild ducks and geese as well as ponds, lakes and swampy areas. Restrict small flocks from contact with wild waterfowl by keeping outdoor enclosures covered with solid roofs and repair any holes. Provide feed and water in an indoor or covered area. Change it daily and promptly clean up any spilled feed so as not to attract wildlife.
SIGNS OF HPAI
Iowa officials noted the signs for HPAI in flocks include a sudden increase in bird deaths without any clinical signs, a lack of energy or appetite, declines in egg production, or misshapen eggs that may have thin shells. Birds may show swelling in their heads, eyelids, wattles and hocks, or purple discoloration of wattles, combs or legs. Other signs may be gasping for air or coughing and sneezing.
APHIS officials said a major red flag showing a sign of illness would be a decline in water consumption by a flock. Sometimes a decline in water consumption is among the first indications that a flock was affected.
Shea also called on producers to react quickly and call their veterinarians to get birds tested. Once cases of HPAI are found in a barn, USDA will move to euthanize the flock as quickly as possible.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the recent HPAI detections in birds do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. It remains safe to eat poultry products. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 F kills bacteria and viruses.
Anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. APHIS has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and a toolkit available at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/….
USDA will report positive test results to the World Organization for Animal Health (known by the French acronym OIE) as well as international trading partners. USDA also continues to communicate with trading partners to encourage adherence to OIE standards and minimize trade impacts.
APHIS will continue to announce the first case of HPAI in commercial and backyard flocks detected in a state but will not announce subsequent detections in the state. All cases in commercial and backyard flocks will be listed on the APHIS website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/….
See "APHIS: Tighten Biosecurity Measures to Reduce Possible Highly Pathogenic Bird Flu Spread" at https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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