Avian influenza virus has been infecting backyard poultry and commercial flocks in 20 states west of Ohio. The disease is highly contagious. Infected migratory waterfowl appear to be the primary source.
The virus is not a health or food safety risk to humans. It does not infect humans, so it is safe to eat eggs, chicken and other poultry products.
The disease is a major concern to Ohio, where poultry and egg production are major industries. Our area does not have any large poultry production operations, but backyard and hobby flocks are fairly common.
Indiana has recently confirmed the virus in a backyard flock near Fort Wayne, confirming its movement toward northwestern Ohio.
The disease is transmitted from direct contact between infected and uninfected birds, and indirectly by objects that have come in contact with diseased birds, such as people, rodents, pets, feed, vehicles, and equipment.
Biosecurity measures need to be taken by poultry owners to prevent the virus from reaching their flocks. Biosecurity is a fancy name for sanitary practices used by livestock producers to prevent infectious agents from reaching their animals.
Mohamed El-Gazzar, Ohio State University Extension poultry veterinarian, recommends the following practices to protect backyard flocks from direct and indirect contact:
Minimize direct contact with infected birds.
• Avoid contact between your flock and other birds, wild and domestic, especially around open water and pastures.
• Prevent mixing between species within the same flocks, such as ducks, geese, and chickens, and between multiple ages of the same species.
• Purchase birds from the National Poultry Improvement Plan’s disease-free sources.
• Quarantine new birds for a week before mixing with the rest of the flock.
• If you show birds, such as at fairs, quarantine for a week before returning to the main flock.
Practices to minimize indirect contact:
• Do not allow outside people to visit your flock. They could inadvertently carry the disease on their clothes, shoes, hands, or other objects.
• Dedicate specific clothes and shoes while working with your flock.
• Use disposable coveralls, gloves and shoe covers.
• Wash your hands before and after handling birds and their surroundings, including feed and water.
• Establish a hand-sanitizing station near the flock for use each time the poultry house is entered or exited.
• Do not allow pets near the flock.
• Animal-proof your poultry house, especially against birds, including sparrows, and rodents.
• Acquire feed from trusted sources and store in a secure place safe from other animals.
• The flock’s drinking water should be the same quality as used by humans. Surface water from rivers, ponds, or puddles may contain the virus left by migratory wild birds.
Avian influenza symptoms in a flock include lack of energy or appetite, decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, hocks; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; incoordination; diarrhea; and sudden death.
If you suspect avian influenza in your flock, contact the Ohio Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at 614-728-6220 or animal@agri.ohio.gov.
A general resource for backyard poultry health and biosecurity may be found at http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/
General information on avian influenza may found on the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s website: http://www.agri.ohio.gov/divs/ai/ai.aspx?div=ai-hpai.htm
A history of the avian influenza may be found at: http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/wildlife_health_bulletins/WHB_2014-05_H5N8.pdf
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at lentz.38@osu.edu. Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.