Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Moving Closer to North Carolina

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Recently, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, and appears to be moving eastward, having already moved from the Pacific Northwest where it was previously confined. The strains identified do not cause illness in humans, and there is no food safety risk with this virus. However, it can be devastating for poultry flocks. Once exposed, the virus spreads quickly, causing high mortality in flocks. These birds do not enter the food chain.

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes issued a memo this week about the outbreak and cautioned that North Carolina flocks may be at risk. Epidemiological reports point to migratory birds as the carriers of the virus. Any birds that have access to the outside are potentially at risk, as they can come into contact with droppings from wild birds. The Veterinary Division is reaching out to backyard and specialty breeders and those with home poultry flocks to make them aware of the risk of keeping birds outside. Commercial flocks are also susceptible, though the risk is much less than the outdoor flocks.

Warning signs include: 1) Lack of energy and appetite; 2) Decreased egg production or misshapen eggs; 3) Swelling of the head, eyelids and comb; 4) Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs; 5) stumbling/falling down/diarrhea; and 6) Sudden death. The most consistent clinical sign is a rapid increase in mortality over several days.

There are some precautions that backyard poultry growers can take to help prevent the spread of avian influenza: 1) Keep chickens and turkeys away from ducks and other waterfowl; 2) Install solid fencing so chickens cannot come in direct contact with neighboring chickens and birds; 3) Keep your birds away from a watering source that migratory birds may use and protect your feed source as well; 4) Buy birds from a reputable source and keep new birds separate from the rest of your flock for 30 days; 5) Do not share feeding equipment with other bird owners; 6) Wash hands thoroughly before and after working with birds. Wear clean clothes and disinfect cages and equipment that come in contact with birds and their droppings. It is best to move all poultry with outside access into bio-secure housing immediately.

By state law, any suspected case of avian influenza should be reported to the Office of the State Veterinarian immediately. Bird owners can also contact the division for help with biosecurity plans or other concerns at 919-733-7601.

Written By

Photo of Damon Pollard, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDamon PollardExtension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock and Field Crops, Forestry (828) 439-4460 damon_pollard@ncsu.eduBurke County, North Carolina
Posted on Apr 2, 2015
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