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Avian flu virus detected in wild ducks on Georgia coast

Jennifer Whittaker, GFB News


Backyard and commercial poultry producers are reminded to follow biosecurity measures the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Georgia Department of Agriculture recommend as a way to limit the exposure of their flocks to avian influenza.

The reminder comes after tests conducted by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Protection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services detected small amounts of avian influenza nucleic acid in swab samples collected from two wild American Green-Winged Teal ducks shot by hunters in McIntosh County on the Georgia coast. The USDA Wildlife Services took samples from the ducks in mid and late December as part of a current wild bird surveillance program according to Georgia’s State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Cobb. 

“The USDA Wildlife Services tests wild birds to monitor for the presence of diseases. The results of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) run on the wild ducks detected a low level of RNA for the H7 strain of avian influenza,” Cobb explained. “Whether a virus is alive or dead, its RNA can still be detected.”

The detection of H7 and H5 subtypes of avian influenza are closely watched due to the impact these virus strains can have on poultry.

“We have a finding of H7 avian influenza virus in wild ducks. This is not a case of avian flu,” Cobb said. “We know this virus is out there in the wild year round and the detection of the virus in these wild ducks serves as a reminder for poultry producers to continue to be vigilant about following recommended biosecurity measures.”

Wild waterfowl are known carriers of avian flu. Backyard and pastured poultry are especially vulnerable to being exposed to avian flu viruses from wild birds unless precautions are taken.

“What backyard and commercial poultry producers have to do in terms of biosecurity measures is what you should be doing every day of the year,” said Dr. David Stallknecht, professor in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Population Health. “We have wild water fowl here in Georgia 365 days a year.”

In 2016, Georgia farmers raised a variety of poultry products including meat chickens, table eggs, breeder chickens and eggs valued at about $5.34 billion, according to the UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Center for Agribusiness & Economic Development. Georgia’s poultry production is the largest contributor to Georgia’s agricultural economy.

Cases of avian flu in backyard and commercial poultry flocks in several Southeastern states last year did require the depopulation of some flocks. Cobb noted that avian influenza does not pose a food safety concern for consumers because commercially grown poultry is tested prior to going to market, preventing any affected commercial poultry from entering the food chain. While backyard
poultry may not be tested prior to processing, proper handling and cooking of any type of poultry will destroy the viruses associated with avian flu.     

Visit www.ga-ai.org for the most recent updates on avian flu in Georgia. Biosecurity recommendations for commercial and backyard flocks are available there and at http://www.gfb.org/avianflu.cms

Backyard or pastured poultry growers are encouraged to follow these biosecurity measures as recommended by the USDA:

• Do not let other backyard/pasture poultry producers come in contact with your birds or visit your farm.

• Game birds & migratory waterfowl should not have contact with your flock. Try to keep poultry inside a screened area.

• Use municipal water as a drinking source instead of giving poultry access to ponds or streams. The avian flu virus can live for long periods in surface waters.

• If you have been near other birds or bird owners, for instance at a feed store or while bird hunting, clean & disinfect the tires of your vehicle and your clothes and any equipment that may have been exposed before going home. Always shower and put on clean clothing before approaching your flock.

• Do not share tools, equipment or supplies with other bird owners. If you do, clean & disinfect them before you bring them home.

Commercial poultry growers are reminded to follow these biosecurity measures recommended by the USDA.

• Allow only essential personnel access to your farm & birds. Disinfect any vehicles that enter your farm.

• Don’t lend or borrow equipment from other farms. Bring only cleaned & disinfected items into your poultry houses.

•Avoid contact with other poultry. If that’s not possible, change clothes & shoes before working with your birds.

• Use disinfecting footbaths when entering/leaving your chicken houses. Change the disinfectant frequently or wear disposable shoe covers.

• Keep poultry houses closed to wild birds.

• Eliminate standing water on your farm & clean up feed spills to avoid attracting wild birds.

Source: USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.


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