Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Delmarva’s chicken community on alert for avian influenza

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GEORGETOWN, Del. — Maryland and Delaware have recently announced the detection of HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) in chickens on two Delmarva farms, including one broiler farm.

Federal laboratory testing has confirmed the two cases: a pullet operation in New Castle County, Del., and a broiler farm in Queen Anne’s County, Md. Following an investigation by the Delaware and Maryland Departments of Agriculture, the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed poultry from these farms tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza.

This is the first time avian influenza has been detected in a Delmarva broiler farm since 2004. Two earlier cases of HPAI detected in Delmarva poultry flocks in recent weeks involved layers, not broilers. State officials have quarantined all affected premises, and birds on the properties are being or have been depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease.

“While Delmarva’s chicken community has worked hard to prevent avian influenza from affecting their flocks and was able to keep the 2015 U.S. HPAI outbreak from impacting us, the ease with which this disease can spread from bird to bird means HPAI poses a significant risk to broiler chickens,” said Holly Porter, DCA’s executive director. “Delmarva Chicken Association and the chicken industry is working closely with USDA and state authorities as they quarantine, depopulate, disinfect and test these affected farms. These chickens will not enter the food system, and properly cooked chicken remains completely safe to eat.”

“Considering these new cases and the prevalence of the virus in the wild bird population, all poultry owners need to increase their vigilance in protecting their flocks from contracting avian influenza,” the Delaware-Maryland Avian Influenza Joint Information Center said in a statement.

For chicken growers, protecting flocks from disease is a year-round effort, and the main focus is to prevent people from inadvertently bringing wild bird droppings contaminated with the virus into chicken houses on shoes, clothes or equipment. Additionally, chicken growers have taken precautions to prevent wild birds or rodents from gaining access inside their chicken houses.

DCA issued additional advisories about HPAI to its members beginning in late 2021, when wildlife scientists shared findings that the virus was more prevalent in wild waterfowl than in past years.

DCA has provided biosecurity tips and best practices to its members in coordination with state departments of agriculture and the USDA’s Defend the Flock (http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov) program and is holding virtual meetings to better inform chicken growers about the recent HPAI detections and what steps are taken on a farm when avian influenza is found.

DCA is reminding all members to follow these biosecurity best practices:

  • Clean and disinfect transportation. Don’t walk through or drive trucks, tractors, or equipment in areas where waterfowl or other wildlife feces may be. If you can’t avoid this, clean your shoes, vehicle, and/or equipment thoroughly to prevent bringing disease agents back to your flock. This is especially important when visiting with farmers or those who hunt wild fowl such as when gathering at a local coffee shop, restaurant, or gas station.
  • Remove spilled or uneaten feed right away, and make sure feed storage units are secure and free of holes. Wild birds can carry HPAI.
  • Keep visitors to a minimum. Only allow those people who take care of your poultry to come in contact with your birds; this includes family and friends. Make sure everyone who has contact with your flock follows biosecurity principles.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after coming in contact with live poultry. If using a hand sanitizer, first remove manure, feathers, and other materials from your hands because disinfectants will not penetrate organic matter or caked-on dirt.
  • Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) and/or disinfectant footbaths for anyone having contact with your flock. The best approach is to use a different pair of footwear or disposable foot coverings for each chicken house on the farm. If using a footbath, be sure to remove all droppings, mud or debris from boots and shoes using a long-handled scrub brush before stepping into the disinfectant footbath, and always keep it clean.
  • Change clothes before entering poultry areas and before exiting the property. Visitors should wear protective outer garments or disposable coveralls, boots, and headgear when handling birds, and shower and/or change clothes when leaving the facility.
  • Clean and disinfect tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility. Before allowing vehicles, trucks, tractors, or tools and equipment to exit the property, make sure they are cleaned and disinfected to prevent contaminated equipment from transporting disease. Do not move or reuse items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected.
  • Look for signs of illness. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases.

What to do if you see signs of disease in your flock

Commercial poultry producers should follow the procedures of contacting the company they grow for when they notice signs of disease.

Backyard flock owners who notice any of the signs of HPAI in their flock should contact:

  • In Delaware, email the Delaware Poultry Health Hotline at poultry.health@delaware.gov or call 302-698-4507 and provide your contact information, size of flock, location, and concerns.
  • In Maryland, report any unusual or sudden increases in sick birds to the MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810. Commercial chicken growers and backyard flock owners can email questions about the outbreak to MD.Birdflu@maryland.gov.
  • In Virginia, report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to the State Veterinarian’s Office at 804-692-0601 or vastatevet@vdacs.virginia.gov or through the USDA’s toll-free number, 866-536-7593.

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