State Agriculture Department reaching out to flock owners to help them protect their birds
ANNAPOLIS (January 15, 2016)—The Maryland Department of Agriculture is alerting all poultry owners and growers to double down on all biosecurity practices now that a highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (HPAI) virus has been confirmed in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana.
“I have been saying that bird flu would return, and it was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if,’” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “Avian flu is back and even though it is not yet in Maryland, that means ‘when’ is now.”
This is the first detection of a high path avian flu virus in the United States since June last year, which led to the depopulation of nearly 50 million birds and became the most expensive agricultural emergency in U.S. history. The strain confirmed this morning is different from the one that caused the outbreak last year; however, the Centers for Disease Control consider the risk of illness to humans to be very low. In addition, avian influenza does not present a food safety risk. When properly prepared, poultry and eggs are safe to eat.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture is encouraging all flock owners to watch for any signs of illness in their birds and to report any increase in illnesses or mortality immediately to the Animal Health unit at 410-841-5810 during office hours, and 410-841-5971 after hours and weekends. Signs of the virus include: sudden death without clinical signs; lack of energy or appetite; swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, hocks; nasal discharge; coughing; sneezing; incoordination; and diarrhea. In layers, look for decreased egg production and soft-shelled or misshapen eggs.
The department is reaching out proactively to owners of small poultry operations that it considers to be at high risk to offer assistance and expertise on how to shore up their biosecurity practices and recordkeeping. These on-farm biosecurity assessments identify challenges specific to an operation and provide recommendations for how to address them. The department encourages all flock owners to register with the department and work with its animal health experts if they are contacted to help keep the disease out of Maryland flocks.
“High path avian influenza is here again, and we are in a critical phase,” said Secretary Bartenfelder. “If we contact you, please accept the help our animal health experts are offering. We want to protect you and your birds, and if we do have an outbreak in Maryland, we want to make sure you have the information and records you need to receive appropriate reimbursements for your loss through USDA. The only prevention we have is stellar biosecurity.”
The department has been training and preparing for an outbreak in Maryland for nearly a year. The department has been testing every flock before going to slaughter. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has avian influenza information on its website including links to a biosecurity self assessment developed by USDA with industry stakeholders. In the event of an outbreak in Maryland, the latest information will be posted on its Bird Flu Blog and on Twitter @MdBirdFlu and @MdAgDept