Avian Flu Outlook is Cautiously Optimistic

Deadly strains of avian flu have ruffled the feathers of the poultry industry in the West and Midwest and sent food manufacturers scrambling for egg substitutes in the wake of spiking prices. More than 30 million turkeys and chickens in 16 states have had to be destroyed due to the virus. But experts appear to have a handle on the crisis courtesy of an effective vaccine. It is generally accepted that the virus is being spread by migratory birds, and can also be spread by humans and other animals that come in contact with bird feces and bodily secretions. Although the spread of the avian flu has stabilized over the summer, experts are wary of the fall migration season and will be on the lookout for new outbreaks.


No cases of avian flu have been reported in Georgia. Poultry producers in unaffected Southern states are taking no chances, initiating strict sanitation protocols and stockpiling the flu vaccine. If an affected bird is detected, birds adjacent to the affected individual’s flock will be vaccinated; the entire flock is destroyed if an affected bird is found. A typical poultry house contains thousands of flocks.


One problem with the vaccine is that it causes all birds that receive it to test positive for the flu virus. There is then no way to tell whether or not a bird is actually sick. For this reason, the U.S. bans the importation of vaccinated poultry. The U.S. poultry industry fears that other countries will respond in kind, and is trying to keep vaccination to a minimum.
The wild card in this scenario is the backyard chicken coop. Residential keeping of poultry has exploded, and these backyard flocks are especially vulnerable to the virus. They are far more likely to come in contact with contaminated water or soil or be infected by family pets or people that have carried the virus from contaminated areas. Experts urge caution when dealing with backyard poultry, including limiting exposure to roaming pets and cleaning off tires, tools, footwear etc. before entering the birds’ areas.


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- Steve Kilbride

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