What is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza?

Video explaining causes and concerns of Avian Influenza
What is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza? - Videos

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What is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza?

Avian influenza refers to a group of viruses that are spread between birds.

In December of 2014, several strains of the Avian Influenza virus showed up in North America, causing severe illness in domestic poultry.

Let's take a look at what has made the current outbreak so severe and how you can help prevent it from spreading.

Two main forms of Avian Flu are recognized.

Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza and High Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI for short.

In the majority of Low Pathongenicity Avian Influenza outbreaks, the disease is fairly mild in poultry.

However, viruses classified as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza can kill large numbers of poultry.

Scientists believe these Highly Pathogenic Avian flu strains originated in Asia and entered North America by way of migratory ducks co-mingling in their northern breeding grounds.

Although they are carriers of the virus, the ducks don't become ill.

So although they don't look sick, they can still spread the virus to your flock.

The current outbreak has not caused illness in people.

It is a different strain from the viruses that caused human infection in Asia.

Humans are not affected by the consumption of meat or eggs from birds later diagnosed with Avian flu.

However, if a bird is diagnosed with the illness, it's products are kept off the market.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza caused a high death loss in domesticated turkeys, chickens, guinea fowl, and upland game birds.

It also spreads very quickly.

One gram of poultry manure, about the size of a dime, can harbor enough virus to infect a million birds.

Under ideal conditions, cool and damp, the virus can survive for up to two weeks in manure.

In cool water, it can survive up to several months.

HPAI can be spread from bird to bird by direct contact or indirectly from contact with the droppings of infected birds.

The virus can remain viable at moderate temperatures so it can also be spread by water, egg flats, crates, equipment, vehicles, and people whose clothing or shoes have come into contact with the virus.

Over 48 million birds have died, or were euthanized, in the current outbreak from March through June of 2015.

As you can see, the Midwest suffers the highest losses.

To date, Pennsylvania has not had any cases.

However, due to the migratory paths of wild birds, it is possible that the virus will make its way to the east with the 2015 Fall migration.

A migration effect of responsible for the outbreak in the Midwest.

This image shows the four main flyways wild birds use in their seasonal migrations across North America.

The majority of the Avian Flu outbreaks have occurred in the Mississippi Flyway.

Pennsylvania is part of the Atlantic Flyway where to date, there have been no outbreaks.

However, due to this crossover, poultry owners in the Atlantic Flyway should know about the symptoms of HPAI and take precautions to keep this disease out of their flocks.

The main signs of HPAI are sudden increase in bird deaths and the flock becomes very quiet.

The birds often show a lack of energy or appetite.

Neurological signs, such as a lack of coordination or a twisted or tilted neck, might be seen.

Soft shelled eggs might be seen.

Also watch for swelling or purple discoloration of head, comb, hoax, or legs.

From infection to death, the disease course might be less than one week.

Note that respiratory symptoms are not typical with the current virus.

Commercial poultry operations are the most at risk financially.

For example, in Minnesota alone, lost poultry production as of Summer 2015 has been valued at 113 million dollars.

With the total economic impact nearing 310 million dollars.

Pennsylvania ranks fourth nationally in egg production.

If Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu comes to Pennsylvania this fall, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture estimates that 54,000 jobs and 3.2 billion dollars in wages could be lost.

With a total economic impact of 13 billion dollars.

Ten percent of the nation's egg layers have been lost in the outbreak.

This has resulted in sharp increases in the price of eggs, affecting food processors and consumer shopping.

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture is studying several vaccines for use in the U.S., vaccination will only be approved if HPAI cannot be controlled by other means.

Therefore, it is especially important to take preventative measures to keep the disease out of your flock.

As a precaution, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has placed a ban on live birds and bird products at state approved county fairs and other events such as the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Since wild ducks are considered the primary carriers of the virus, those who raise backyard, free range, or pasture-fed poultry are advised to coop up their birds to prevent them from co-mingling with wild ducks or coming into contact with duck manure or infected surface water.

For example, keep them in housing under runs protected by nets or in chicken tractors.

Since ducks carry the virus, mixed water fowl poultry flocks are not advised.

Although ducks don't get sick from it, other poultry, like chickens and turkeys, are very susceptible.

Finally, bird owners are asked to practice thorough biosecurity to avoid bringing the Avian Flu virus into their flock or spreading it to others.

Continue on to the next video in this series to learn what you should do if health issues arise in your flock.


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