ATLANTA — On Dec. 29, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper announced that as of Dec. 27, 2023, Georgia has achieved free status for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in poultry following a November outbreak at a commercial raised-for-release waterfowl facility in Southwest Georgia. As listed with the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH, formerly OIE), this designation allows exports and international trade for Georgia poultry products to be restored.
“Following the detection of HPAI in a commercial raised-for-release waterfowl flock in Southwest Georgia, our State Agricultural Response Team (SART) immediately deployed to the affected premises where they worked through the Thanksgiving holiday to successfully contain the outbreak and mitigate any further spread,” Harper said. “I’m incredibly proud of their work to contain the outbreak, protecting our poultry industry and the more than 80,000 Georgians it employs. Thanks to our SART Team’s work, Georgia’s ‘HPAI-Free’ status in poultry has been restored, and exports of Georgia Grown poultry can resume as normal.”
Flock owners should note that a HPAI-free status in poultry is NOT an “all clear” or an indication that the risk of the disease is over in Georgia or the United States. Owners of all flocks, large and small, need to remain vigilant in biosecurity and prevent the virus’s introduction.
“We’re grateful that Georgia has been declared HPAI-freedom in poultry. While the risk of HPAI persists, we’re optimistic that with conscientious flock owners, we’ll remain in HPAI free in poultry,” said Georgia State Veterinarian Dr. Janemarie Hennebelle. “Continuing vigilance is key — minimize contact between wild birds and poultry, follow all biosecurity protocols, and stay watchful over your flocks.”
The influenza virus is still very active throughout parts of the United States. HPAI has been identified on 1050 premises in 47 states since February 2022, with new cases as recently as late December. Wild birds infected with HPAI have been found from coast to coast in various species, including waterfowl (ducks, geese, gulls, etc.), raptors (vultures and eagles), as well as other common species (wild turkey), and has also been detected in some wild mammals (bear, mountain lion, etc.)
In Georgia, HPAI was confirmed in November 2023 in a commercial raised-for-release waterfowl operation located in Sumter County. This was the first confirmation of HPAI in a commercial waterfowl flock in the state. All control areas and surveillance zones have been released.
Under WOAH guidelines, HPAI-free status in poultry can be declared for a state or region after the disease has been eliminated on all affected farms and no new infections are detected during a minimum waiting period of 28 days.
Avian influenza is a viral disease of poultry. It can be of low pathogenicity (LPAI), causing mild disease, or high pathogenicity (HPAI), causing severe illness and death. The virus has different strains, for example, H1N1 or H7N3. Some LPAI viruses can mutate and become HPAI viruses. Waterfowl and other wild birds contribute to the spread of avian influenza.
· Food Safety: Avian influenza does not pose a risk to the food supply. The risk of human infection with avian influenza is very low.
· Signs of HPAI: Signs include sudden death without clinical signs; lack of energy or appetite; decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; swelling or purple discoloration of the head, eyelids, comb, hocks, nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, lack of coordination, and diarrhea.
· Reporting Disease: Promptly report any observation of domestic or wild birds with the signs as described above.
· Domestic birds: In Georgia, call the AI Hotline at 770-766-6850. Testing is free through the Georgia Poultry Lab, https://www.gapoultrylab.org/avian-influenza-hotline/.
· Wild birds: In Georgia, report dead or sick bald eagles or vultures when seen in unusually high numbers in a single location to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at 478-994-1438.
For more information about HPAI, visit www.aphis.usda.gov.