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Animal Health

UDSA veterinarian stresses biosecurity to reduce incidences of avian influenza

Written by Natasha Wheeler

“We still continue to find some new cases, however we have seen an overall decline in the number of cases that we are finding on a daily basis,” noted USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford, in regards to avian influenza in the United States.

Clifford spoke on June 2 with Mike Adams, the host of AgriTalk, explaining that hot weather and strong biosecurity are the best defenses against the virus.

“It would be really good if we could get some hot weather in Iowa and Minnesota to assist us with the reduction of the virus in the environment,” he said.

Pathways

Clifford explained that producers need to identify several factors to mitigate the virus.

“We believe there are several potential pathways that need to be addressed, and we continue to work with the industry to address those,” he stated.

“We know that wind is likely a factor. We also know there is a high probability of contamination of seed. If seed in not properly heat treated and protected, it can be a carrier,” Clifford explained.

People are also carriers of avian influenza, and some, such as truckers, may carry the virus between facilities.

Wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, act as a reservoir for the bird flu virus, and it may be transmitted to domestic poultry populations through a number of different variables.

“Wild waterfowl are known carriers of low-pathogenic avian influenza, so we can get introductions from that,” he added.

What is most concerning about the recent outbreak is the global transmission of highly pathogenic strains of the virus, he added.

Wild populations

“Waterfowl can be carriers of highly pathogenic avian influenza, but they typically have not carried it for long distances because they oftentimes, die from it,” Clifford remarked. “This H5N8 strain has moved literally around the globe. It survives and has adapted to ducks, and the ducks don’t die.”

Clifford’s office has been working with states and producers to ensure that strong biosecurity measures are in place to prevent the virus from spreading further.

“We have to recognize that the environment is contaminated with the virus because of waterfowl and then practice good biosecurity,” Clifford commented.

He noted that it is important not only for the decline in current cases but also for the prevention of a new outbreak next year.

“Overall, I think things are going fairly well in regard to the relationship part and the communication part,” Clifford noted of USDA and producer efforts.

The biggest challenge for the industry is depopulating affected poultry and properly dispensing of the birds.

Disposal

“We’ve got a high number of egg-layers that have been depopulated but not disposed of, because of the time frame and methodologies that it takes to move those birds,” he said.

Generally, birds can be composted, put into landfills with special “bio-bags,” incinerated or buried.

“We’ve had some issues with the incinerators. They are hopefully up and working now,” Clifford remarked. “We need all of those things working well with composting, incineration and landfills to help us quickly dispose of those birds.”

Although he believes it is not possible to accurately predict the next outbreak, Clifford encouraged the industry to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

“If our biosecurity is not really top-notch and very good, then we are going to have a lot of issues to deal with in the fall and spring,” he said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..