As county fair season approaches around West Virginia, the state’s residents may have noticed the cancellation of poultry exhibits and judging due to concerns over avian influenza.
While the news is disappointing for exhibitors and perhaps concerning to the public, Joe Moritz, poultry specialist with the West Virginia University Extension Service, assured cancellations of events are precautionary in nature and don’t reflect an outbreak in West Virginia.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the three strains that are primarily circulating in the United States currently are not considered human health threats and do not pose any risk for humans to contract the disease.
However, the implications for poultry producers are more serious and require careful attention from national and state organizations and the owners themselves.
“The threat of avian influenza is a concern and something to take seriously if you’re a producer on any scale,” said Moritz. “West Virginia has to remain cautious, as poultry is our number one agricultural commodity, the majority of which are raised on family owned and operated farms — protecting the farmer’s livelihood and the state’s economy is a high priority around the state.”
Examples of the animals affected by avian influenza include, but aren’t limited to, chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl. Wild and migratory birds can also be affected by the disease.
There are several strains which may be either high or low pathogenic, and depending on which strain, symptoms may range from undetectable to severe illness that can be fatal for the animal. Just as strains of human flu vary in severity, so does avian flu.
The USDA recommends a few practices to safeguard animals from becoming infected, the heart of which is prevention and observation.
“Prevention through limiting exposure is the first and most sensible option in protecting large-scale productions and your home flock alike — just as you’d limit your exposure to sick people during human flu season, you have to keep healthy birds away from sick ones,” explained Moritz. “Restricting access to your property and birds helps to ensure the flu isn’t introduced to them.”
Moritz also emphasized the importance of looking for warning signs in the flock. Exhibited symptoms include sneezing; coughing; lack of energy; poor appetite; drop in egg production; swelling around eyes, head and neck; purple discoloration of wattles, comb and legs; and sudden increase in bird deaths.
If symptoms are present, report sick birds to your local office of the WVU Extension Service, your local veterinarian, or the USDA.
Additional recommendations include cleaning and disinfecting clothes, shoes, equipment and hands before and after entering poultry areas or if you’ve been near other birds or bird owners.
While it’s the neighborly thing for them to do, borrowing lawn and garden equipment, tools and poultry supplies from other bird owners invites the risk of infection as well.
“Ultimately, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this scenario,” said Moritz. “The USDA and West Virginia Department of Agriculture work hard to eradicate animal disease outbreaks. By following some simple guidelines and doing our part individually, producers in West Virginia can continue to play a significant role in meeting the nationwide demand for poultry and feeding hungry people.”
For more information about avian influenza, visit usda.gov/birdflu or cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/. If you have additional questions, contact your local WVU Extension Service office or the West Virginia Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian’s office at 304-538-2397.
CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service
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