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Avian Influenza: Keep Your Backyard Birds Safe and Protect Georgia’s Economy

If you have followed the news this year you have probably heard about the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza strain impacting both commercial and backyard poultry across the country.  Twenty-one states and 48 thousand birds have been affected to date.  There have been no cases of the virus infecting humans because the virus is not zoonotic, meaning it cannot pass between humans and animals.  Commercially produced poultry is tested for avian influenza prior to being processed so poultry products are safe for human consumption.

Avian Influenza is strictly an animal health issue and not a food safety or public health issue but that does not mean that we should not be aware of its impact and prevention.  Agriculture is the largest segment of Georgia’s economy and the poultry industry is the most valuable segment.  Georgia’s poultry-egg industry contributes an estimated $28 Billion annually and supports nearly 109,000 jobs.   You may have noticed egg prices on the rise this past year because the U.S. layer industry has lost 10% of their average inventory.  The U.S. turkey industry has also lost 7.45% of their average inventory, which means you can expect higher prices during Thanksgiving this year.

 

Virus Information

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a strain of avian influenza characterized by high morbidity and mortality in poultry, as high as 100%.  HPAI is highly contagious and easily spreads in birds.  Waterfowl (ducks and geese) are carriers, but do not suffer the effects of the virus.  The virus can spread bird to bird, through the air, and on equipment, clothing, trucks, and animals.

Biological Flyways, Credit: Michael A Johnson, North Dakota Game and Fish

Biological Flyways, Credit: Michael A Johnson, North Dakota Game and Fish

The virus is believed to have originated in Asia and spread through wild waterfowl to Canada.  From Canada there are four major flyways that cross the United States that all migrating birds follow.  Georgia is on the Atlantic flyway which stretches across Canada from the Northwest Territory in the west to Baffin Island in the East down through the Great Lakes area to the East Coast.

The virus cannot survive extended periods (10 days) above 65 degrees, which has helped safeguard us here in Georgia.  But as birds begin migrating south this fall we will become more susceptible.  The current outbreak has been largely concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and upper Midwestern states this spring.

When infection is detected rapid containment is crucial to control the outbreak.  One detected case will restrict movement at all poultry facilities within a six-mile radius.  The commercial poultry industry and the Department of Agriculture have extensive prevention and containment measures in place and have participated in containment and quarantine efforts in other states with active avian flu outbreaks.

While the commercial poultry industry in Georgia has the greatest risk in terms of potential for loss, it also has multiple safeguards in place and limited exposure to migratory birds.  Conversely the greatest potential for avian flu to be introduced into Georgia is via the backyard chicken flock.

 

How to Protect Your Backyard Birds

  1. Keep Your Distance
    1. Restrict access to your property and your birds
    2. Consider fencing off the area where you keep your birds, allow only people who take care of your birds to come into contact with them.
    3. If visitors have birds of their own, do not let them near your birds.
    4. Game birds and migratory waterfowl should not have contact with your flock.
    5. Keep chickens inside a pen or coop and do not let them run around free-range.
  2. Keep it Clean
    1. Wear clean clothes when in contact with your birds; scrub your shoes with disinfectant.
    2. Wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area.
    3. Clean cages and change food daily.
    4. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools.
    5. Remove manure before disinfecting.
    6. Properly dispose of dead birds.
    7. Use municipal water for drinking sources instead of giving chickens access to ponds or streams.
  3. Don’t Haul Disease Home
    1. If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as a feed store or bird hunting, clean and disinfect car and truck tires and equipment before going home.
    2. Keep any new birds or birds that have been off site separate from your flock for at least 30 days.
  4. Don’t Borrow the Virus from Others
    1. Do not share tools, equipment, or supplies with other bird owners.
    2. If you do bring these items in, clean and disinfect them before they reach your property.
  5. Know the Signs of a Sick Bird
    1. Sudden increase in deaths
    2. Drop in egg production or soft or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs.
    3. Lack of energy or poor appetite
    4. Watery and green diarrhea
    5. Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs.
    6. Swelling around the eyes
    7. Nasal Discharge

Early detection is critical to prevent the spread of the disease

  1. Report Sick Birds
    1. If you suspect your flock is infected call the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network at (770)766-6810
    2. Or Call your Local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office – Cherokee County (770) 721-7803