Although Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have had to deal with highly pathogenic avian H5 viruses for the better part of a decade, until very recently North America’s poultry industry and wild bird population have been spared. All that changed last December when a dozen poultry farms in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley reported an outbreak of HPAI H5, which in very short order was reported in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Like falling dominos, more states began to report detections of HPAI H5 (H5N1, H5N2, H5N8) in wild birds, and backyard and commercial poultry operations. As of this week 11 states have now reported the virus, although their actual spread is likely to be greater.
Since November we’ve seen H5N8 and/or H5N2/H5N1 turn in both the Pacific and Mississippi Americas Flyways, and at this point no one would be terribly surprised to see these viruses turn up further east along the Atlantic Americas flyway.
While migratory flyways are predominately north-south corridors, their overlapping allows for a lateral (east-west) movement of avian viruses as well – often via shared nesting areas and ponds – something we’ve looked at recently in The North Atlantic Flyway Revisited & FAO On The Potential Threat Of HPAI Spread Via Migratory Birds.
Since we’ve yet to see any human infections from these reassortant H5 viruses, the immediate health risk to the public is considered very low. But as these new subtypes are related to viruses which have caused serious human infections (H5N1, H5N6) in other countries, they are being viewed cautiously by the CDC (see CDC: HPAI H5 Viruses In The United States)
The more immediate concerns revolve around protecting commercial and backyard poultry operations from infection, as these viruses are not only devastating to flocks in their current incarnation, they have the potential to evolve or reassort with other avian viruses with unpredictable results.
While commercial poultry operations have the most to lose, they are probably the best prepared to prevent infection.
In recent years we’ve seen a resurgence in the raising of backyard flocks in this country, and they are particularly vulnerable to infection. Late yesterday afternoon the USDA posted a blog on small flock biosecurity measures, along with links to several videos.
Bird Flu Is a Reminder For Back Yard Poultry Owners to Protect Their Birds By Practicing Good Biosecurity
Posted by Dr. Chrislyn Wood Nicholson, Poultry Health Specialist, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, on March 27, 2015 at 5:00 PM
Dr. Wood on set with Healthy Harry taping new biosecurity videos.
Since December 2014, there have been several highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) confirmations in migratory wild birds, back yard flocks, captive wild birds and commercial poultry in several states along the Pacific, Mississippi and Central Flyways. These HPAI virus strains can travel in wild birds without them appearing sick. In fact, if back yard poultry flocks are exposed to these particular HPAI virus strains, they are highly contagious and cause bird death. We are expecting that there will be more HPAI confirmations this spring as the bird migrations continue, so if you own or handle poultry, now is a great time to check your biosecurity practices. You should follow good biosecurity at all times to help protect the birds’ health. Your actions can make a difference! Learn more here: http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov
As part of good biosecurity, you should prevent contact between your birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through the state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number: 1-866-536-7593. You also 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. You are the best protection your birds have! Learn more here: http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov
What is biosecurity? Biosecurity means taking some simple steps to keep your birds away from germs AND germs away from your birds. If you follow good biosecurity, you will help ensure your birds remain healthy.
For backyard bird owners, there are 6 simple steps to biosecurity:
- Keep your distance – Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds.
- Keep it clean – Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools and equipment.
- Don’t haul disease home – Also clean vehicles and cages.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor – Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors.
- Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases – Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease
- Report sick birds – Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths.
Commercial producers should follow biosecurity recommendations from their industry associations and the National Poultry Improvement Plan.
Want to learn more about practicing good biosecurity while being entertained? Need to share information with 4H, FFA or school groups? Here are links to a series of videos about biosecurity on YouTube:
These videos will help you see biosecurity in action so you can feel confident you are taking the right steps to protect your backyard birds.