June 5, 2015 - 11:47am -- Anonymous

If you were not aware of the seriousness of the recent outbreaks of the avian influenza and the huge and devastating losses it is causing to some poultry producers and the U.S. poultry industry, perhaps the announcement by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) last week to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county and independent county fairs in 2015 grabbed your attention.  You may be asking; what is this avian influenza and how widespread is it?  Does it pose a risk to poultry in Ohio and Wayne County?  What is the human risk? 

Since last December, an unprecedented outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 linked to wild migratory birds has gripped the U.S. poultry industry, affecting more than 45 million birds from commercial and backyard flocks (as of June 4, 2015) at more than 200 locations in 15 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Wild or domesticated waterfowl can carry and spread the virus, but they do not show symptoms.  Avian influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds, and through indirect contact with contaminated equipment and materials. The virus is excreted through the feces of infected birds and through secretions from the nose, mouth and eyes.

The USDA response to outbreaks of avian influenza make use of five basic steps that include: 1) Quarantine – restricting movement of poultry and poultry-moving equipment into and out of the control area; 2) Eradicate – humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s); 3) Monitor region – testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area; 4)  Disinfect – kills the virus in the affected flock locations; and 5) Test – confirming that the poultry farm is avian influenza virus-free. 

According to OSU Extension poultry veterinarian Dr. El-Gazzar, the group of viruses responsible for this current outbreak is lethal to poultry producing severe disease and high mortality that can reach 90%.  These viruses can affect all poultry species including turkey, layers and broilers.  Ducks might be an exception, as they can be infected with virus but not showing any disease or mortality.

No cases of avian influenza have been reported in Ohio to date.  The recent decision by ODA to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county and independent county fairs in 2015 is an effort to protect Ohio’s $2.3 billion poultry industry.  Ohio is a major poultry production state; ranking second in the nation in egg production and ninth nationally in turkey production.  Ohio has 28 million laying hens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys.  Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey farms provide more than 14, 600 jobs.   In Wayne County, commercial poultry is an important component of our vibrant agriculture economy and it is a growing industry.  According to the 2012 agricultural census, the inventory of broilers and other meat-type chickens on Wayne County farms was 5.38 million.  Layers on farms accounted for another 355 thousand plus birds.

It is important to know that these strains of avian influenza are not a public health risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the risk to people from the current avian influenza viruses to be low. No human cases have been detected in the United States, Canada, or internationally.  Further, consumers cannot catch avian influenza by eating eggs, chicken or turkey.  Poultry products are safe to eat.  As a reminder, however, all egg and meat products should be cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Home and backyard poultry flock owners need to help with the prevention of possible outbreaks by 1) avoiding contact with other poultry flocks or wild birds or ponds and lakes frequented by wild birds, 2) following biosecurity measures to protect your home flock and 3) if mortality is observed at an alarming rate, contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

More information about avian influenza is available through the Wayne County Extension office at 330-264-8722 or by going to the following web sites:

http://tiny.cc/USDAavianfluhome:  USDA avian influenza home page with background and resources about avian influenza.

http://tiny.cc/USDAavianfluoutbreaks : USDA web page that lists and tracks all current outbreaks of avian influenza by state and flock size.