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Bird flu: Is it really a worry for this year?
Michigan Correspondent

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The fear of a widespread avian influenza outbreak in the United States could be much ado about nothing.

Nonetheless, the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension poultry team is conducting a series of educational meetings to teach small poultry flock owners how to recognize the disease and what to do if they believe their flock is infected.

About 30 people attended a seminar last week at the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education in East Lansing, Mich.

“We’re just starting a small flock, and we wanted to be aware of what to look for and what to report,” said Elaine Meeuwes of Hastings, who attended.

Patricia Roeske of Hartland, in Southeast Michigan’s Livingston County, raises about 300 free-range turkeys for Thanksgiving with the help of her family. They also raise chickens for egg production. She is concerned about how to answer avian influenza questions from her customers and also about the future of free-range poultry production.

“I wanted something in writing from a reputable source that you would not get (avian influenza) from eating (the meat),” Roeske said. “I also wanted to know, family-wise, what we should do to protect our own health.”

During his presentation, Dr. Mick Fulton, DVM, Ph.D., with the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, discussed the characteristics and history of several different strains of influenza.

He said, while the Asian strain of H5N1 avian influenza has not yet reached the United States, it has spread across Europe and Asia - killing 113 people as of April 27. However, he stressed, the Asian lifestyle could have a lot to do with the disease being contracted by humans.

“In Asia they live very close to their poultry,” he said, showing the group pictures of poultry sharing the same living space as its owners. “That does not happen here in the United States.”

The primary concern among health experts is the potential for it to reach the United States by early fall through the migratory bird population.

The avian influenza virus can be transmitted from bird to bird and can spread to domesticated poultry when wild birds come into contact with outdoor flocks.

Fulton told the group that avian influenza likely would not be found in the United States until this fall when migratory birds make their way south from Alaska, Iceland and Greenland. He cautioned the producers to protect their flocks from coming into contact with migratory waterfowl such as swans, ducks or geese this fall since they are most likely to carry the disease.

He said “small birds” such as swallows or doves “really have not been affected.”

Fulton explained to the group that if their flocks become infected they would know it because the animals will die “very quickly. This virus has a high morbidity.”

Some symptoms may include lesions, facial swelling and comb blisters.

“We do not treat this disease,” Fulton said. “We quarantine and get rid of” the birds.

Preventative measures, he said, include keeping birds inside and practicing common sense biosecurity.

“You can transmit it on your clothing, on your shoes, in your hair and on equipment,” Fulton said. “It is typically carried from farm to farm by people.”

He also said washing with soap and water or disinfecting with bleach would kill the disease organisms.

Fulton’s suggestions struck Lisa Hamm of Mason, who has a small flock of chickens.

She attended the meeting to learn about biosecurity.

“I wanted to find out what their recommendations are for keeping (my flock) secure,” she said.

Paul Wylie, an MSU extension agent from Allegan and one of the organizers of the meeting series, said the poultry team would continue its educational efforts as long as there is a possibility of an avian influenza outbreak.

“There is a lot of concern at the state and federal levels of government about the eventuality of the pandemic or human-to-human transmission of the disease,” Wylie said.

“The event itself would overwhelm our health facilities. Although it’s a low risk, we’re taking as many steps as we can.”

A primary concern to the agricultural industry, Wylie said, is the possibility that consumers will reduce their consumption of eggs and poultry.

“This could devastate the poultry industry,” he said.

Thus, Wylie said it’s imperative to educate people about the characteristics of the disease and that they cannot contract avian influenza through consumption of poultry products that are properly handled and thoroughly cooked.

“So far in the world the bird flu has killed just over 100 people,” Wylie said. “Every year in the United States about 25,000 people die from the common flu.”

Anyone who suspects their flock has contracted avian influenza should contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture at 1-800-292-3939.

For more details about avian influenza, go online at,,, or

This farm news was published in the May 24, 2006 issue of Farm World.