AI UPDATE – FALL 2022
The arrival of summer brought hope that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak may phase out like it did in the 2015 outbreak. Fewer cases were popping up and sites that had been affected were already starting to repopulate. However, as we move into fall, we are seeing an increase in cases of HPAI in wild birds as well as commercial and backyard poultry sites. While we hoped summer and the warmer weather had brought the end to the bird flu outbreak, we now need to maintain vigilance and not let our biosecurity guard down.
The rate at which HPAI is spreading among the wild bird population is much greater than in the 2015 outbreak. This means that the outbreak had the potential to be far more devastating than previous outbreaks as wild birds, especially waterfowl, are one of the leading causes of spreading the disease. With fall comes the next migratory period so growers need to be mindful of avoiding contact with wild birds to avoid contamination.
The 2015 outbreak, considered the worst to date, affected 50 million domestic birds however it was not found in as many species or in as many geographic areas as the current outbreak, meaning the 2022 outbreak is likely to surpass the figures of the 2015 outbreak. To date, just over 44 million birds have been affected by AI. This includes 439 confirmed flocks, 207 of which are commercial flocks. Since July, over 3 million birds have been affected. To date, 39 states have had at least one confirmed flock. The most recent cases in September have been in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, Wisconsin, and California.
The process of dealing with bird flu in 2022 is a stark contrast to the devastating outbreak of 2015. Action is taken quickly and the speed at which the process unfolds is much more efficient. Systems and protocols are in place so that producers, as well as USDA and state animal health officials, can act quickly. Some producers were able to repopulate their farms in around three months. In 2015 the process took closer to 7 to 9 months. The turnaround on federal assistance for producers is also faster because the USDA has an indemnity program in place. This helps with the cost of euthanizing birds, as well as clean up and disinfection of sites, disposing carcasses and repopulating farms.
In addition to improvement in disease response, we have seen many producers improve a biosecurity plan to help stop the spread of the disease on-site. Producers that were heavily impacted by losses in 2015 strengthened their biosecurity protocols and kept the 2022 outbreak at bay. As well as cleaning trucks that come on and off-site, producers that avoided being hit this year have noted their foot baths, hand washing and sterilization, and keeping the line of separation have had a big impact. Clothing and footwear worn outside the barn are left on one side and a change into in-barn gear limits bringing in any disease or contamination. This method has been adopted by many in the industry and has proven to be a strong line of defense against the virus and other diseases. Epidemiologists have said that these improved biosecurity processes have greatly limited the transmission of the virus in the current outbreak.
There is still a lot of controversy surrounding vaccination. Trade issues can arise, so if the United States moves to vaccinate against AI, there will need to be an international movement to vaccinate so as to not have a negative trade impact. So, until vaccination is implemented, poultry producers need to remain vigilant in their efforts to protect their livelihood.
It is crucial to keep your guard up. Biosecurity is as important as ever in preventing bird flu entering your farm. Use this time to firm up and make sure your biosecurity plan is as robust as possible and that it is actually BEING FOLLOWED.
Remember to keep an eye out for symptoms of HPAI and if your birds are showing any of these symptoms, report immediately.
- Sudden death without clinical signs
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks
- Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
- Nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing
The USDA offers free resources for training poultry farmers through their DEFEND THE FLOCK program, which can be adapted to commercial and backyard poultry farmers. At the very minimum, the following measures need to be taken
- Not allowing visitors to approach or handle your birds
- Washing and sanitizing hands, and changing clothes before and after handling or feeding birds
- Using disposable boot covers or footbaths
- Disinfecting tools when moving between flocks
- Keeping a sharp eye out for signs of illness in your birds.
Another important impact to take note of is the strain and stress that dealing with AI causes for farmers, their families, veterinarians and others in the poultry industry. For many farmers the mental stress that has come with dealing with the outbreak, in particular those who have had infected flocks destroyed, as well as those in control zones dealing with the effects of that, has been a heavy burden. While it is important to remain hopeful, it is also crucial to not let down your guard too soon as positive cases seem to climb again. If you are feeling under immense stress and anxiety, please seek someone to talk to, whether it be family, pastoral advice, or local rural support or crisis programs. Please look out for YOU too.
Subscribe to our blog!