By Yuko Sato–Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
AMES, Iowa –In a recent episode of the Small Farm Sustainability Podcast, Yuko Sato, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach poultry veterinarian and associate professor in Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, discusses avian influenza and how good biosecurity practices can help prevent outbreaks in poultry.
Avian influenza, explains Sato, is a viral disease of poultry and other birds caused by type A influenza virus. There are two primary types of the virus, distinguished by their capacity to cause disease. The first, Low-Pathogenic Avian Influenza, results in mild respiratory symptoms. The second, and more concerning, is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which spreads rapidly through chicken and turkey populations and has a high fatality rate.
According to Sato, HPAI can have a variety of symptoms. Many birds experience respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and swollen sinuses. Other symptoms include diarrhea, flock huddling, decreased food and water consumption, and neurological symptoms such as lethargy and depression. The biggest red flag, however, is sudden and unexplained death within the flock.
Good biosecurity practices are the first line of defense against this destructive disease, explains Sato. Avian Influenza is spread through both direct and indirect contact, meaning that the infection can come from contaminated birds coming into contact with each other or through contaminated equipment. HPAI in birds does not present an immediate public health concern and poultry products are safe to eat.
Good biosecurity is not a cookie cutter concept and will not look the same for everyone, warns Sato. However, there are some general guidelines to follow. As Sato explains, good biosecurity means keeping the outside out and the inside in. Poultry farmers should be mindful of wearing contaminated clothing or boots around birds and should set aside a pair of boots to be worn in the barn as well as keeping coveralls clean. Another preventative measure that farmers can take is to be mindful of borrowed equipment by sanitizing this equipment before it comes into contact with poultry and by using their own equipment when possible. According to Sato, a good trick to remember is T-I-P-S: Traffic control, Isolation, Pest control, and Sanitation.
If farmers suspect an outbreak within their poultry, the first step is to contact the state veterinarian or USDA. Early detection is key to controlling outbreaks, so farmers should not hesitate to reach out. The second step is to isolate to prevent further infection.
ISU Extension and Outreach has a variety of resources available to poultry farmers regarding Avian Influenza and Biosecurity, including a guide to movement risks and biosecurity and a visual guide regarding bird protection. Farmers are also encouraged to visit the HPAI toolkit as well as the APHIS website for further information.