Avian flu no threat to Delaware poultry yet

DOVER — Even though no avian influenza has been reported in Delmarva or even on the East Coast, Delaware is taking no chances.

Since December 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed several cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways — the paths used by migratory birds. The disease has been found in wild birds, as well as in a few backyard and commercial poultry flocks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people to be low and no human cases of these HPAI H5 viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada or internationally.

Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, said in an email last week the Delaware Department of Agriculture, the 1,600 Delmarva families who raise chickens and all the poultry-related industries are concerned about the possibility of avian influenza viruses reaching the peninsula.

“We are not in a panic mode,” he said, “but are working to make sure the virus is kept away from our commercial chickens and to be prepared in case it is discovered.”

Delmarva’s chicken industry is geared toward producing meat, not eggs, he said. Delaware is ranked 10th among the states in the pounds of meat chickens produced in 2013. More than 1.5 billion pounds were produced.

Poultry and related industries contributed $3.2 billion to the Delaware economy in 2011, according to the University of Delaware.

Mr. Satterfield said efforts continue to improve biosecurity, update prevention and response plans and ensure resources are in place to deal with the potentially devastating disease.

“The three diagnostic laboratories for Delmarva are gearing up in case there are suspicious or confirmed cases of avian influenza,” he said.

Planning exercises also are in the works.

On Monday, the Delaware Department of Agriculture announced it is prohibiting waterfowl entries in the poultry competitions at the Delaware State Fair, July 23-Aug. 1 in Harrington, in order to protect against avian influenza.
Ducks and geese won’t be exhibited. Exhibitions of chickens, quail, pheasants, turkeys and other birds will take place, but all birds will be tested for avian influenza by the Department of Agriculture personnel before the fair begins.

“This action is being taken out of an abundance of caution to guard against the spread of avian influenza,” said Delaware state veterinarian Dr. Heather Hirst.

Since many species of wild waterfowl can carry and shed influenza virus in feces without showing any signs of illness, Dr. Hirst said it is important to keep domestic birds separated from wild waterfowl and to keep domestic birds off waterways where wild waterbirds live.

Avian influenza spreads bird-to-bird through saliva, feces and other bodily fluids.

Biosecurity measures recommended by the department include isolating birds from visitors and other birds; keeping shoes, tools, equipment, vehicles and cages clean when entering areas where birds live; avoiding tracking wild waterfowl feces into domestic bird living areas; avoiding sharing equipment and tools with neighbors; watching for warning signs of disease; and reporting sick or dead birds.

Sick or dead domestic birds, including backyard flocks and commercial poultry, should be reported to the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s Poultry and Animal Health Section, (302) 698-4500 or (800) 282-8685.

To report groups of dead or sick waterfowl, shorebirds or gulls, contact the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Wildlife Section-Wildlife Disease Program at (302) 735-3600.

For more information on avian influenza, visit de.gov/birdflu.

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