Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Quick flock depopulation is key to fighting AI spread

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By Barbara Olejnik

Poultry Times Staff

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Rapid depopulation of infected poultry flocks is needed to help halt the spread of avian influenza during an outbreak, according to the United Egg Producers.

In an Aug. 25 webinar, the UEP said a review of actions taken by egg industry members during the recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza points to the need for rapid depopulation of layer houses.

Depopulation of a layer house during an outbreak needs to be within the first 24 hours, said UEP President Chad Gregory. To continue any longer than this would contribute to spread of the virus, he added.

Ventilation shutdown is a method that is being examined by government and industry groups as a possible way to quickly depopulate a poultry house.

Under such a method, the poultry house would be closed down, ventilation would be shut off and potentially heat and/or CO2 would be added.

Gregory noted that ventilation shutdown “is a tool that the government wanted to have available in the past AI crisis and probably a tool they will want to have available to them if the virus comes back and if the crisis explodes as it did this year.”

Ventilation shutdown is a method to quickly depopulate a flock to keep the virus from going house to house, farm to farm and county to county.

A variety of veterinary groups, including the UEP  Scientific Committee, are exploring ways to depopulate a house better, faster and and humanely

UEP noted that a method such as ventilation shutdown would probably only be used in a “last case scenario” and in emergency situations.

Along with depopulation is the need for pre-planned disposal methods.

In the latest AI outbreak, egg producers were faced with the need to immediately dispose of thousands of dead birds. Disposal requirements differ with state regulations — ranging from burial to composting to incineration.

UEP said disposal plans need to be site specific. In addition, each egg producer should work with their individual state to establish a disposal plan before any such action is needed.

Gregory urged egg producers to work out agreements with their states and to “lock in” that agreement long before any mass disposal may be needed.

The less time spent arranging and conducting disposals, the less time the virus has to infect other birds or environments, he said.

“Egg farmers affected by AI this spring have been working diligently and are making good strides toward resuming egg production,” said Gregory

While some of the farms affected earliest in the outbreak time period are beginning to bring young hens back into their barns, Gregory said it will be at least 12 to 18 months before egg production returns to full, pre-AI levels. In addition, farms repopulating must meet stringent cleaning and disinfection regulations defined by USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service before they can repopulate.

The rapid spread of AI in this year’s outbreak “turned the spotlight” on biosecurity, Gregory noted.

While government agencies expect the industry to demonstrate a culture of heightened biosecurity, UEP noted that any biosecurity measures should be an industry-led plan, certified by a third party and site-specific.

“We recognize that an industry plan has to be on how to keep it (avian influenza) off your farm,” Gregory said. “It’s hard to keep it from spreading house to house when its already on the farm.”

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