SINCE DECEMBER 2014, MORE THAN 6 million domestic chickens and turkeys have been euthanized as a consequence of the latest avian flu outbreak. Thus far limited in the U.S. mainly to the West and Midwest, spread of avian influenza viruses H5N8 and H5N2 (originating in British Columbia) has been along the Pacific and Midwest flyways, major routes for birds migrating between Canada and Central and South America. Birds in Washington, Oregon, California, Iowa and Minnesota have been particularly hard hit.
“[The virus] killed a lot of turkeys, a lot of [egg] layers,” says Dr. Jarra Jagne, Extension Poultry Veterinarian at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The USDA’s approach to control is to destroy all birds when [the virus] gets into a farm facility. So if it gets in and there’s a 50 percent mortality rate [from the virus]; the other 50 percent are going to be euthanized.”
As a result of the viral outbreak, egg prices nationwide have headed skyward as the supply has dwindled. The virus has yet to infect birds using the Atlantic flyway, so, ironically, egg producers in New York State have reaped the benefits financially. But there’s always tomorrow. “We are concerned for New York State that this virus may come in the fall,” Jagne says. “We have meetings every two weeks with the state veterinarian, and farmers are being urged to put in the best security and to make sure they have the resources to tackle any outbreaks on their farms.” This includes additional personnel if the farms are forced to euthanize birds, as well as an approved plan for disposal of the euthanized birds.
Biosecurity is the key to protecting any farm, and it starts with restricting access to the birds, Jagne stresses. “You have to make sure anyone coming to your farm is wearing protective clothing, coveralls, boots. Personnel on many farms are required to change their shoes and their clothing— sometimes even shower—before starting work.” These biosecurity practices are important because humans can carry the virus, even spreading it on the bottom of shoes.
Officials must also consider options if a farm is in a control zone but deemed unaffected by the virus. When and how will they be allowed to market their eggs are primary questions. “There’s a program called the Secure Egg Supply Plan that will help farmers meet the standards required to allow them to receive a permit to ship their eggs,” Jagne explains. “There’s a website they can go on with a checklist to make sure they meet the criteria to be able to ship their eggs in case of an outbreak.”
Other precautions include having dedicated personnel working in a single building rather than in all the buildings on a farm, controlling rodents by trapping and disinfecting any vehicles or equipment coming onto the farm. It’s important for egg producers in the Hudson Valley to be extra vigilant, even though the virus has yet to be seen here, Jagne cautions. “In the Midwest, it was devastating,” he says. “It’s going to take a while for them to restock because they have to wait at least three weeks after the last negative test before they can put birds back in the houses.”
By implementing preemptive biosecurity measures now, Jagne says, the hope is that the Hudson Valley and New York State can avoid the devastation that has affected the Midwest.