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UK poultry specialists urge growers to remain vigilant with avian flu

By Doug Schmitz
Iowa Correspondent

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite the number of cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) declining after the recent outbreak, University of Kentucky poultry specialists are urging flock owners to remain vigilant.
“This is not the time to relax biosecurity measures on the farm,” said Tony Pescatore, UK poultry specialist and chair of the university’s department of animal and food sciences. “We have had a few cases in Kentucky, with the most recent ones in small flocks.”
While HPAI was once a rare occurrence, he said the state’s poultry producers have had to deal with it more frequently in recent years.
“More recently, there has been a positive small (backyard) flock in a neighboring county (May 5) in Indiana,” he said. “With correct management, growers can minimize the chances that highly pathogenic avian influenza will affect their flock.”
As of May 9, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed 833 flocks with HPAI. To date, the disease is responsible for killing nearly 59 million poultry birds in 47 states.
Jacquie Jacob, UK poultry extension associate, however, said, “Kentucky has been lucky. You can filter the list by state. We had four positives. They were depopulated. No new cases since Oct. 11 of last year.”
Pescatore said while the millions of sick birds mentioned in the media sounds astounding, the number represents a very small percentage of the total U.S. poultry population.
“Preventing highly pathogenic avian influenza is a big deal,” he said. “It has hit some commercial growers in the country very hard. Poultry is very important to the Kentucky economy.
“We have a lot of poultry growers with very large flocks, quite a few small flocks, and backyard flock owners,” he added. “Everyone, no matter their flock’s size, must be proactive about protecting their birds from highly pathogenic avian influenza.”
Pescatore said all growers should follow simple biosecurity and prevention guidelines:
- Flock observation: Early detection helps stop the disease’s spread. Growers should observe flocks daily and note changes in appearance, behavior, and drinking and eating habits.
- Limit traffic: Contaminated clothing and equipment spreads HPAI between poultry premises. Growers should keep a log of visitors and vehicles on the farm. Be aware of places visitors may have had contact with birds or their droppings such as hunting lands, ponds, pet stores, zoos and parks. Visitors can unknowingly bring disease to the farm.
“It’s good practice to ask farm visitors and workers to put on clean boots to keep from spreading disease,” Pescatore said. “Cleanliness is just so important to prevent and contain highly-pathogenic avian influenza.”
- Unwanted critters: HPAI can spread through infected birds’ feces and bodily fluids. As such, growers should prevent poultry from encountering wild birds. Keep vegetation mowed around poultry houses and coops to help control wild birds and rodents. Keep all other animals out of the chicken house. Growers should isolate new or returning birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days.
Pescatore said these recommendations also protect flocks from other poultry diseases, adding it’s essential for growers to recognize signs of HPAI.
He said some of these include sudden death; drop in water consumption, little to no appetite or energy; little to no egg production; soft or deformed eggs; nasal discharge; coughing, sneezing, or breathing difficulty; swelling around the head, neck and eyes; purple discoloration; loss of muscle control; drooping wings; twisting of the head and neck, the inability to move; and diarrhea.
He said birds may have the disease for three to seven days before they show signs, and death can occur between 24 and 48 hours after the first sign.
“Many of the symptoms can also be related to other more common poultry ailments,” he said. “Unfortunately, birds infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza don’t survive.
“If you observe unusual symptoms or many deaths in your flock, contact your local veterinarian, or the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory,” he added.
The UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Murray State University’s Breathitt Veterinary Lab are certified through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to handle HPAI cases.
The UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will test poultry samples for a $50 fee.
“Our two Kentucky labs are certified, fully trained, supplied and ready to respond should an outbreak occur in our state,” said Alan Loynachan, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory director. “The Kentucky Poultry Federation, the office of the Kentucky State Veterinarian, and the Kentucky poultry industry all work closely together.”
The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has several publications about highly-pathogenic avian influenza and poultry production available at:
Pescatore said growers should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state or federal officials, through their state veterinarian, or the USDA Sick Bird Hotline at (866) 536-7593.