A recent headline said South Dakota officials found Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in a commercial turkey flock. HPAI is typically spread by wild birds during spring and fall migrations. Michael Crusan, communications director with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, says it can seem as though the disease never truly goes away.
Crusan says, “It goes away from poultry operations, yes, so it goes away from the farms and the places where people raise poultry. Where there’s not as much information is does it go away from wild bird populations? There are different organizations out there, like the federal government and other groups, that test wild birds as they migrate through other places, and they collect data and will occasionally get detections of things like highly pathogenic avian influenza, and they know it’s still out there. I guess, to your question, doesn’t ever leave? I don’t know. It’s one of those things that, on our side of the coin with the farming and production agriculture side, we have to take that uncertainty and put up our best offense, which is biosecurity.”
He talks about a couple of the most important biosecurity measures growers should have in place. Crusan says, “Make sure that no wild birds have access to any of the areas that are your poultry area in, so make sure that you have adequate fencing, adequate bird netting around certain areas, you’re keeping things like feed spills cleaned up quickly and just reducing that chance that those two could cross paths. Understanding keeping your area where you’re keeping your animals clean, so that means a change of clothes, separate footwear, and cleaning and disinfecting your equipment when you go in and out of the area where you care for your birds. The starting point is you should be changing your boots when you’re walking from somewhere like your house or your driveway or somewhere that wild birds can stop by. You need to be able to change out of those shoes into boots that are only for your chicken area or only for your turkey area where you keep your birds.”
Potential infection signs include significantly lower water consumption in the 72 hours before sudden death in poultry and listlessness. However, the signs of HPAI can be similar to other diseases, so he says it’s important to keep a close eye on the birds when something appears to be wrong.
He says, “You know when something’s not right with your animals, and it’s that intuition that should be triggering the alarm bells for you to call a vet to maybe do some more additional testing or to get their input on it, and at the very least, find out what the problem is. Specific signs of avian influenza can be shared with a lot of different diseases and issues, so instead of drilling down on looking for a, b, and c, we like to just give that full health view of the birds. And if you think something’s off, if you have that feeling that there’s something not right with your flock, then definitely get in touch with a vet.”
It’s extra vital to be especially vigilant in the spring or fall according to Crusan.
He says, “Never let your guard down, especially this time of year when we have the known commodity of migration going through the area. It’s that higher risk time of year, so this should be a warning especially as you mentioned with that detection out in South Dakota. We know it’s kind of moving up and down the flyway across the U.S., so it’s one of those things where, for everybody, it feels like it’s only a matter of time, so we’re encouraging farmers to do your best biosecurity to keep that virus out and keep your birds healthy.”