Credit Wikipedia – Stanislaus County
Via APHIS today, we’ve word of the first American commercial poultry operation to be infected with the recently arrived HPAI H5N8 virus, in this case a turkey farm in Stanislaus County, California just east of the San Francisco Bay area.
Previously several small backyard flocks in Washington, Oregon and Idaho had been affected - as well as wild birds – but no commercial farms.
While ramped up biosecurity measures have been promoted by state and local agricultural agencies, as we’ve seen elsewhere in the world, keeping these avian viruses out of commercial flocks can be a difficult task. The H5N8 virus, in particular, seems well adapted to spread via wild and migratory birds and over the past 12 months has become a serious threat to poultry operations across much of Asia and parts of Europe.
The only good news is, so far we’ve seen no evidence that H5N8 poses a serious threat to human health. The caveat being that avian viruses continue to evolve, and new reassortant viruses could pose different risks.
Here is the statement from the USDA APHIS website, after which I’ll be back with a bit more:
Last Modified: Jan 24, 2015
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2015— The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5N8 avian influenza in a commercial turkey flock in Stanislaus County, California. This is the first finding of HPAI in commercial poultry during the ongoing disease incident in the Pacific Flyway. No human cases of these avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada, or internationally, and there continues to be no public health concern.
Samples from the flock, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS) and the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa confirmed the finding. APHIS is partnering closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which has quarantined the facility. APHIS and CDFA have initiated an incident command response, and APHIS will assist CDFA in depopulating the remaining birds on the property to prevent the spread of the disease. Birds from the involved flock will not enter the food system.
H5N8 has not been shown to present a health risk to the public. As a reminder, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills bacteria and viruses.
Federal and State partners are working jointly on additional surveillance and testing in the nearby area, following existing avian influenza response plans. These plans also will include preventing the movement of risky animals or products out of the immediate area to prevent further disease spread. The United States has the strongest AI surveillance program in the world, and USDA is working with its partners to actively look for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets, and in migratory wild bird populations.
USDA will be notifying the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of this detection as part of USDA’s ongoing reporting of all HPAI findings. USDA also continues to communicate with trading partners to encourage adherence to OIE standards and minimize trade impacts. OIE trade guidelines call on countries to base trade restrictions on sound science and, whenever possible, limit restrictions to those animals and animal products within a defined region that pose a risk of spreading disease of concern.
These virus strains can travel in wild birds without them appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and to report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through your state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov
Over the past couple of months we’ve seen H5N8 and/or H5N2 turn up in five western states (California, Idaho, Utah, Oregon & Washington), as well as in British Columbia – all lying beneath the Pacific Migratory Flyway.
It is probably safe to assume that these HPAI viruses are winging their way stealthily across other western states, and could perhaps make it down into Mexico or Central America. The Pacific Flyway extends north-south from Siberia all the way down to the tip of South America.
As these global migratory flyways overlap, it is possible to see lateral (west-to-east) movement of avian viruses as well.
Should these highly pathogenic avian viruses become better established in North American birds, they could prove a very expensive challenge for our domestic poultry industry. Over the past 12 months Korea has culled more than 15 million birds due to H5N8, China and Japan continue to do battle with it, and the butcher’s bill from its recent incursion into Taiwan is far from being tallied.
For a virus that just over a year ago was on no one’s radar, H5N8 has made quite the splash, and right now shows no signs of retreating anytime soon.