USDA: Take care to avoid avian influenza in bird flocks

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Owners of chickens and other flocks of birds are advised to exercise caution against the highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has just been detected in New York state. Contributed photo

If you’ve got backyard chickens, ducks or other birds, or if you are a poultry farmer, officials are advising exercising caution to avoid a highly pathogenic avian influenza that has been found in Long Island and other areas of the country.

The latest report of a positive test for the disease, known as HPAI, turned up in Suffolk County, Long Island, at a small, non-commercial backyard flock that had a total of eight birds in it. It was the first reported recent incidence of HPAI in New York state.

HPAI is a highly contagious disease that is often fatal to chickens.

Other cases have been identified in wild birds in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Georgia and Florida.

Cases have also been detected in commercial flocks in Indiana and Kentucky, and a backyard flock in Virginia, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

The disease does not pose an immediate public health concern to humans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At this time no human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the U.S., but the agency reminded everyone to properly handle poultry and eggs and be sure to cook the food to an internal temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit to kill any bacteria or viruses that may be present.

Commercial and hobby poultry farmers are urged to increase biosecurity measures to help prevent the spread of the disease. Birds from the infected flock in Long Island will not enter the food system, according to the USDA, and the premises where the disease was found has been quarantined.

“Avian influenza outbreaks can spread quickly,” New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said. “We will continue to do all we can at the department to safeguard the state’s flocks and encourage everyone who keeps poultry to be vigilant about minimizing their birds’ exposure to the virus and to wild bird populations. Our poultry industry is a significant part of the state’s agricultural industry and these biosecurity steps are our best line of defense against the disease.”

Anyone who owns flocks of birds, whether backyard chickens or poultry farmers, should take precautions to protect their birds from the virus, according to New York State Agriculture and Markets.

Best practices include:

  • Discourage unnecessary visitors and use biosecurity signs to warn people not to enter buildings without permission.
  • Ask all visitors if they have had any contact with any birds in the past five days.
  • Forbid entry to employees and visitors who own any kind of fowl.
  • Require all visitors to cover and disinfect all footwear.
  • Lock all entrances to chicken houses after hours.
  • Avoid non-essential vehicular traffic on-farm.
  • After hauling birds to processors, clean and disinfect poultry transport coops and vehicles before they return to the farm.
  • Report anything unusual, especially sick or dead birds, to Agriculture and Markets.

Bird owners should also keep their birds away from wild ducks and geese, and their droppings, and should keep them indoors as much as possible.

To report sick birds, an unexplained high number of bird deaths, or a sudden drop in egg production, call Agriculture and Market’s Division of Animal Husbandry at 518-457-3502 or the USDA at 866-536-7593.

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