Avian Influenza

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Sep 23, 2015 Comments Off on Avian Influenza kirbyforgeorgia

Avian Influenza is impacting commercial and backyard poultry across the country.  Georgia’s Department of Agriculture has been ahead of this news for several years to keep your food safe and to protect our poultry industry.  The Department of Agriculture, supported by the General Assembly, is coordinating the efforts with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network, the USDA and others to ensure Georgia is the most prepared state in the nation to handle an Avian Influenza outbreak.

We have heard warnings about Avian Influenza or “bird flu” in the past, why should this one be different?  The current strain of AI is a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) characterized by high morbidity and mortality in poultry, often as high as 100%.  This particular strain of the virus, H5N2, is not zoonotic, meaning in cannot pass between humans and animals.  No human cases of AI have been confirmed in the United States.  This Avian Influenza is an animal health issue, not a food safety or public health issue.

However Avian Influenza, like all types of influenza, is capable of frequent mutation.  When one type of influenza comes into contact with another, changes are likely to occur; therefore, safety precautions and proper bio-security measures need to be followed.  Backyard poultry often has a greater exposure potential.  It is imperative that safe handling and cooking techniques be followed with all poultry, but pay special attention to any backyard poultry products.

Let me reiterate, your food is safe and will continue to be safe.  All commercially produced poultry is tested for avian influenza prior to being allowed to be processed.  Poultry products and eggs are safe for human consumption and your Georgia Department of Agriculture will continue to see that they remain safe.

There have been no cases of avian influenza detected in Georgia so far.  Why the fuss, if we have not seen it here?  So far avian influenza has been found in 21 states with over 48,091,293 birds having been affected to date.  Thus far, the U.S. turkey industry has lost 7.46% of its inventory to avian influenza.  The U.S. layer and pullet industries have lost 10.01% and 6.33% of their inventory respectively.  That is a combined 16% loss of the hens laying eggs or the young hens that would have become layers in the future.

Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry and poultry accounts for nearly 47% of the agriculture industry in Georgia.  Georgia leads the nation in production of broilers and the combined poultry-egg industry contributes over $25 billion annually to our economy and supports over 100,000 jobs.  Avian Influenza could be a disaster to our economy if there were to be a severe outbreak.  That is why we lead the nation in our AI readiness preparation.

Avian Influenza originates in the Artic.  Wild waterfowl flocks from Asia and North America all migrate to the “top of the World” during the summer breeding season.  It is here that the Avian Influenza gets spread into the different wild birds.  Without getting bogged down in the science, there are biological difference between the wild waterfowl and the domestic poultry that allow the H5N2 virus to react differently.  In the waterfowl the virus is low pathogenic and the wild birds become carriers of the virus.  The birds then migrate south using 4 major “flyways”; the Pacific Flyway, the Central Flyway, the Mississippi Flyway and the Atlantic Flyway.  The Atlantic Flyway, in which Georgia is a part of, is the only migratory route in the US that HPAI has not yet been found.

AI can be spread from bird to bird by direct contact as well as by manure, equipment, vehicles, egg flats, crates, and people whose clothing or shoes have come in contact with the virus. AI viruses can remain viable at moderate temperatures for long periods in the environment and can survive indefinitely in frozen material. Everyone should be vigilant. The good news for Georgia right now is that this virus does not survive long in temperature over 65 degrees.

The best defense is to keep the virus out of our flocks here in Georgia.  All poultry should be kept away from wild waterfowl and strict biosecurity procedures maintained. Biosecurity means limiting visitors and neighbors contact with poultry.  Wearing of clean Tyvex clothing coverings and disposable boots when entering chicken coops.  Take every precaution to avoid contact with wild water fowl, including duck hunting.  If you own chickens, you need to avoid going duck hunting this year.  Any contact with wild waterfowl, from hunting or any other means should be followed by multiple showers; cleaning and disinfection of footwear and all clothing, vehicles and equipment; and a period of at least 72 hours before any contact with poultry.

Let me reassure that the State of Georgia is more prepared and ready to stop avian influenza if it is found here than any other state.  We have plans in place and have conducted readiness exercises to ensure we are prepared.  We have sent our teams to other states where flocks have been infected, implementing many of our plans to help stop the spread of the virus.  With nearing 8% of the turkeys lost, 16% of the layers gone; over 48 million bids lost, Avian Influenza is something we take very seriously.  Together, we will put up our best defense to keep it out of Georgia, stop the virus from spreading if it shows up and continue to keep your poultry products and eggs safe for you to enjoy.

If you have any questions or concerns, please free to contact me either by email at tom.kirby@house.ga.gov or call me at 404-656-0177.  If I don’t know the answer I will get you the contact information you need to get your questions answered.