State and Federal officials have their hands full in Indiana where avian influenza symptoms have appeared. They are currently fighting a new wave of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu. Having had the opportunity to reflect on the Bird Flu epidemic that devastated the upper Midwest states in 2015, the USDA and Indiana State Board Of Animal Health (BOAH) have wasted no time in initiating the most current containment and protocols, including the goal of euthanizing all birds within 24 hours of confirmation and placing humans who have had direct contact with the virus under close observation.
Officially, the USDA announced on January 15th that a commercial turkey farm in Dubois has been infected with the H7N8 strain of Bird Flu. This version of the virus is not something the United States has seen before and is somewhat uncharted territory. The USDA is trying to stamp this threat out as quickly as possible in an attempt to prevent another widespread epidemic like we saw in 2015 and before this new strain of virus can show the world what it can do.
Despite the immediate response, Indiana’s BOAH has confirmed that the virus has spread to a total of 10 farms, all of which are commercial turkey farms and collectively account for over 245,000 turkeys. In addition to the 10 turkey operations, an 11th farm is being depopulated despite showing no avian influenza symptoms and having tested negative for bird flu, due to what is being described as “dangerous contact”. Small by today’s commercial standards, the 11th farm houses 156,000 layer hens. Unless further farms are affected, the depopulation of this layer flock should have no effect on the dozen eggs price Americans pay at the store.
For those of us with backyard birds, remember to be vigilant. Don’t let people, pets or wild animals near your birds and be sure your chicken pens and runs are covered to prevent an infected wild bird’s droppings to contaminate your flock. Discourage wild birds of any kind from hanging around your chickens by eliminating or distancing any wild bird feeders from your chickens. Remember that every time you go to the feed store, someone could have dragged the virus in on their boots, so clean your footwear before entering your coop and avoid leaving feed bags in your coop. Many feed manufacturers and feed stores keep bagged feed in a warehouse, and those warehouses usually have wild birds hanging out in them, so the bag your chicken grain came in may be contaminated as well.
The Indiana BOAH and the USDA are putting out the word to all poultry owners to watch for sick chicken symptoms, especially sudden death, lack of energy or appetite, decreased egg production, soft shelled or misshapen eggs, swelling or purple discoloration of head (or eyelids, comb, hocks) nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, lack of coordination and diarrhea. The USDA urges anyone who has chickens that exhibit such symptoms to call their free Healthy Birds Hot line at 866-536-7593. If you have dead birds that need to be assessed, the Indiana BOAH asks that you please double bag and refrigerate them until they can be properly collected.
For the most up-to-date information on the Indiana Bird Flu outbreak, visit the Indiana BOAH website. For nationwide information released by the USDA, you can visit the USDA’s APHIS Reported Avian Influenza web page. Also visit USDA’s Healthy Birds resource for more information on how to spot sick birds, and what to do if you see them.