Extension @ Your Service: Bird flu returns to the U.S.

Avian influenza, aka bird flu, has finally made its way to the U.S. this year, and while it has missed North Carolina so far, we are just starting to experience the far-reaching effects of this disease.

You may have noticed the increase in egg prices, and your turkey sandwich is likely to cost a little more soon, but this is only a minor inconvenience compared to the loss of jobs and income to the growers and poultry workers in these affected states.

Extension @ Your Service by Richard Goforth

Extension @ Your Service
by Richard Goforth

This outbreak started on the West Coast and has been traced back to migratory waterfowl. After a few cases in the Pacific flyway, it appeared in the Midwest along the northern end of the Mississippi flyway. There, it found its way into some commercial poultry flocks, wreaking havoc on turkey and egg production.

Avian influenza, often referred to as AI, comes in many different strains just like human flu viruses, and each one has different characteristics. These strains are usually classified as high or low pathogenic depending on their ability to spread and the severity of symptoms. The current strain causing most of the issue is a highly pathogenic one spreading easily among hosts killing more than 50 percent of the birds infected, and like other flus, it affects bird species differently.

Gallinaceous birds, chickens and turkeys are highly susceptible to this and most strains of AI, while waterfowl like geese and ducks often only get a little sick. This is one of the biggest problems with controlling the spread of AI as migratory waterfowl shed the virus in mucus and feces they excrete, and since they migrate, they spread it around. Add to this the fact that waterfowl produce droppings in or near water sources such as ponds and lakes where the virus can survive for several weeks or months, and you can begin to understand the challenge.

The other real challenge comes from the long 10- to 14-day incubation period of the virus before symptoms may appear. AI is a reportable disease, which means the state veterinarian will determine deposition of the birds, and a positive case will bring an immediate quarantine and has major implications on trade.

The good news is we have had five days without any new cases being reported as of Monday morning, and the first few farms that were hit with the outbreak have been approved to start growing again. The spring/summer migratory period has passed, so once the active cases are disposed of, we hope to maintain a clean status.

The bad news is all those migratory birds will return south this fall and North Carolina and the Southeast where most of the broiler or meat chicken production occurs will be under new pressure to prevent and control this disease.

This is the reason that the state veterinarian and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, with the approval and consultation of the commercial and exhibition poultry industry, has chosen to stop all poultry shows, fairs, swap meets and exhibitions starting Aug. 15 through the end of 2015. Several other states have already taken this step and many more are considering similar bans.

If you would like to learn more specifics about the ban or AI, click here.

For more information, please contact the Richmond County Cooperative Extension at 910-997-8255 or send an email.

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