Over the years we have been faced with numerous diseases that attacked different aspects of the agriculture industry (swine flu, bird flu, mad cow and others). Most did not hit our state too badly but did cause some panic and economic woes. A new strain of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) is in the west and Midwest but there is a possibility it could affect some part of North Carolina. Hopefully it will be minor but we need to make plans to minimize it’s impact before we see the first sign. Here are some questions and answers to help you begin to learn about this potential disease threat.
1. What is Avian Influenza? How is it transmitted? What birds does it affect?
First off we want to remain positive and say this is an “If” it hits and not a “When” it hits. Our environment is less welcoming for this disease right now so hopefully we will be spared.
Simply put, Avian Influenza is a flu that birds are susceptible to. It attacks the birds’ respiratory system. The disease is transmitted through bodily fluids by direct bird to bird contact as well as inadvertent spreading by indirect contact with animals, humans, vehicles, etc. Migratory birds will more than likely be the major way the disease is introduced and transmitted. The biggest threat is when migratory birds are headed south for the winter. Different types of birds are susceptible to this disease both domestic and wild. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and many predatory birds are just some of the birds we know can contract the disease.
2. In the past there was a chance of humans being infected from different animal diseases. Can humans contract this strain of bird flu?
There is no evidence that humans can contract this type of bird flu. There have been no known cases. The United States has the best surveillance system in the world allowing for earlier detection. Early detection help contain the outbreak which will reduce potential impacts. Infected birds will be identified and WILL NOT enter the food chain. For hunters or if you eat birds you raise, cooking the eggs, meat, etc. thoroughly will destroy the disease.
3. What is the risk for both commercial poultry operations as well as backyard poultry flocks? Do poultry operations need to notify someone that they have poultry as well as the number of birds?
Both commercial and backyard flocks are at risk. Backyard flocks that do not practice good biosecurity will be at a greater risk. Due to the varied ways to spread the disease, the risks remain to be great. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) is requiring ALL poultry flocks, regardless of size, to register with their department. This information will help preserve your poultry flock by preventing exposure. This is the best way to obtain accurate information and protect your flock. Go to www.ncagr.gov/avianflu for information on how to register your flock.
Due to the risks, NCDA&CS has cancelled any public poultry shows or auctions until January 2016. As a result there will not be any poultry exhibited at North Carolina Fairs this year.
4. Is there a medical treatment for the infected birds? How do producers protect their flocks from and reduce the risk of contracting this disease?
Once birds are infected, there is no treatment. A vaccine is in the works but the results are inconclusive at the present time. The best ways for producers to protect their flocks are to learn and practice good biosecurity, gather information, know the signs of the disease and use common sense. Go to www.ncagr.gov/avianflu for more detailed information.
5. What happens if a positive case is found?
The Veterinary Division of NCDA&CS has been trained and is well prepared to manage the situation. The positive flock will need to be depopulated to help control the potential spread. A quarantine zone will be set up around the positive farm of up to 10 miles. Nearby flocks will be monitored to track any potential spread of the disease. If flocks are registered, the NCDA&CS can utilize phone calls to gather information on the health of flocks without visiting farms which reduces potential spreading. All roads in the quarantine zone will be monitored to help reduce potential spread of the disease. These measures will continue until there are no new cases and the disease has been contained.
To report potential cases, contact the NCDA&CS Veterinary Division at 919-707-3250.
6. How do producers and the general public learn more about Avian Influenza as well as stay up to date as new information becomes available?
The NCDA&CS has a very informative website at www.ncagr.gov/avianflu where you can learn about the bird flu, symptoms and signs, who to contact if you suspect a positive bird, how to register your flock, biosecurity practices to protect your birds and much much more. The Cooperative Extension Center in Yadkinville (336-679-2061) also has information to help you better understand the potential risks of this disease.
If this Avian Influenza does hit, it will have direct affect on the poultry industry. It will also have an even larger impact on our state’s and nation’s economy with lost jobs, income, resources and so much more. We hope and pray this disease will not hit but we need to be prepared to reduce the potential affects and impacts it could impose. You may not have poultry but we all need to have a better understanding of this disease to help reduce its potential spread.
Phil Rucker is an extension agent with Yadkin County Extension Agency.