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Protecting Poultry from Avian Influenza

EVERETT, Wash. — Strict sanitation measures by both commercial and hobby poultry producers are critical to preventing an outbreak of avian influenza in Washington state, according to Mike Hackett, Washington State University Snohomish County Extension educator. Hackett says people with small flocks including those who raise geese, ducks, turkeys and other fowl should be especially careful.

Pointing to the British Columbia provincial government’s emergency destruction of 80 percent of the province’s commercial poultry flocks, some 19 million birds, Hackett says that vigilance is critical for this state’s poultry growers.

One quarantined British Columbia farm is within 10 miles of the U.S. border, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that avian flu has been detected in Canada within 600 yards of the border. USDA officials are now visiting farms and rural homes in Whatcom County looking for signs of the disease.

The flu strain found in Canada has not been associated with serious human illness but it is extremely contagious and deadly among birds, including wild birds.

“Avian influenza doesn’t respect borders, and it’s easily spread,” Hackett said. “If poultry and waterfowl producers take this threat to heart and enact a series of preventative measures, this economically devastating disease will not establish itself.”

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service lists the value of poultry and egg production in Washington state at nearly $143 million. Lewis, Thurston, Clark, Cowlitz, Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and Pierce counties are the state’s leading poultry producers.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is asking everyone who is raising birds, including pet birds, to monitor for signs of illness. Any suspicion of disease should be promptly reported to the state veterinarian’s office. During regular business hours, Monday through Friday, the number is 360-753-9430. Weekend and after-hour calls will be taken by the state Emergency Operations Center, 1-800-258-5990.

WSDA is also urging poultry farmers to limit personal contact with one another and to minimize visitors at their farms to reduce the chance of spreading the disease on shoes or clothing. The department has also asked those planning sales or auctions of farm equipment to consider postponing them to prevent potential spread of the disease.

For commercial producers, from small flocks to large producers, Hackett says adherence to proper and thorough farm biosecurity procedures, the protocols for cleaning and decontaminating, is essential to containing the virus.

Authorities are asking poultry producers to adhere closely to the following recommendations for at least the next 30 days:

  • Keep a clean operation. Disinfect all equipment and supplies coming onto the farm.
  • Don’t use equipment from other farms, and limit the movement of vehicles entering and leaving the farm. Disinfect the undercarriages and tires of all vehicles as they enter or leave the premises.
  • Avoid visiting other poultry operations and grower-related meetings, shows, fairs and other poultry-related events.
  • Learn the warning signs of serious avian diseases, which include coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharges, diarrhea, lameness and sudden drop in egg production.
  • Supply clean clothes and footwear or disposable coveralls and shoe covers for all employees. Provide a disinfectant footbath to be used whenever entering or leaving the poultry house or egg room, and change it daily.
  • Keep visitors away from the birds, especially if the visitor also raises birds. If they do visit, provide clean coveralls and footwear.
  • Keep pet birds and wild birds away from your flock, and don’t allow employees to maintain their own birds. They can carry a number of bird diseases without being ill themselves.
  • Maintain good records on purchases and sales of birds. If a disease problem arises, the documentation will help officials track down and eradicate it.
  • Submit birds to a diagnostic laboratory whenever an unusual disease occurs. For details on submitting birds contact A. Singh Dhillon, director of the WSU Avian Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Puyallup at 253-445-4537.
  • Properly dispose of dead birds by incineration, composting, rendering or burial.
  • Do not spread manure from any flock that has experienced illness or mortality within the previous three weeks, unless the manure has been properly composted.

The avian flu strain found in British Columbia may cause mild flu symptoms, according to the USDA. Humans may contract the disease through direct contact with infected birds but cannot catch it by eating cooked meat from infected birds.

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