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Bird Migration Brings Threat Of Avian Influenza To Southern Flocks

Bird Migration Brings Threat Of Avian Influenza To Southern Flocks
September 1, 2015 |

There have been no cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly called bird flu, in Alabama, but farmers and state officials remain vigilant in protecting Alabama’s multi-billion-dollar poultry industry.

There are no reports of this HPAI strain affecting humans, and the last case reported in birds by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was in the Midwest in June. But as wild waterfowl migrate south this fall, concerns are likely to escalate.

 “Our farmers are highly encouraged to follow strict biosecurity measures in an effort to prevent spread of the virus if it returns,” said Guy Hall, Alabama Farmers Federation Poultry Division director. “The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) and state veterinarian’s office hopefully developed plans for our farmers to avoid HPAI in our state.”

Migratory waterfowl can carry the virus with no ill effects; however, HPAI is lethal to domestic poultry. The spring HPAI outbreak affected 48.1 million birds, mostly chickens and turkeys in the Midwest.

According to the state veterinarian’s office, biosecurity measures are the best ways a farmer can protect flocks. Those measures include disinfecting poultry houses between flocks; keeping poultry away from water sources used by migratory waterfowl; providing dedicated clothing and footwear for farm employees and visitors; properly cleaning and disinfecting equipment; and permitting only essential workers and vehicles on farms.

The USDA will increase HPAI monitoring and samples from wild birds through March 2016 and will hire additional staff, if needed.

“Early detection of avian influenza remains key to controlling its spread and minimizing its effects,” said Dr. John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer, in a statement.

The virus caused a decreased supply of eggs, creating higher prices at grocery stores across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, on average, U.S. egg prices jumped 31 percent from $1.96 per dozen in May to $2.57 in June.

It will take time for the poultry and egg industry to rebound from such dramatic losses, Hall said. Affected farms undergo a complete cleaning and disinfecting process, followed by tests to show the farm is virus free before poultry returns.

“It’s difficult to tell exactly how long it will be before egg and turkey production gets back to it’s previous levels in those regions, but some economists say it will take one to two years,” Hall said.

State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier of Alabama said it’s important for farmers to monitor birds and report any unusual sickness or high mortality of poultry to the ADAI.

“HPAI has also affected backyard flocks, so hobby farmers need to be watchful and report unusually sick birds as well,” Frazier said. 

To report suspected cases, contact the state veterinarian’s office at (334) 240-7253. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/USDA-hpai.

A recent survey by Auburn University shows Alabama’s poultry industry has an annual economic impact of $15.1 billion, providing more than 86,000 jobs. Alabama ranks third nationally in broiler production behind Arkansas and Georgia, and ranks 13th in total egg production, with more than 9.24 million laying hens. Layer flocks in the state produce more than 2.1 billion eggs annually.

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