Avian influenza: one year later

Avian influenza: one year later

A look at what's taken place during the past year to cope with this devastating poultry disease.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey last week highlighted the preparations that have taken place by Iowa poultry farmers and by government agencies during the past year to better prepare for another possible potential outbreak of avian influenza. The “bird flu” outbreak that struck a year ago resulted in the deaths of millions of hens on Iowa egg producing farms and turkeys on Iowa turkey farms.

LESSONS LEARNED: When it struck one year ago, the devastating outbreak of “bird flu” hit Iowa harder than any other state. USDA says the 2015 avian influenza outbreak was the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history; 48 million chickens and turkeys in 21 states died.

“As we approach the first anniversary of avian influenza in Iowa, it is important to review the steps taken by the poultry industry in response to what occurred last year, and also to look at what the state and federal government has done to prepare to respond even more quickly should we see the disease again,” says Northey. “The progress that has been made to recover from this devastating animal health emergency and prepare for any future outbreaks is a testament to the resiliency and commitment of our state’s poultry farmers.”

Poultry farmers are monitoring their birds closely
Looking back at what’s happened since the outbreak of a year ago, Northey says, “Poultry farmers have made significant investments to improve biosecurity to prevent the disease from getting on their farms and are monitoring their birds closely so we catch the disease early should it appear.

“In addition, both the federal and state governments have updated our disease response plans and are ready to implement them,” he adds. “If the disease does appear again, the Iowa poultry industry and state and federal partners all have the goal of having any infected flocks depopulated within 24 hours to help control the disease and limit its spread. After the outbreak last spring everyone understands that we need to respond more quickly to eliminate the disease on the farm which reduces the chance it can move and infect more birds.”

Biosecurity is very important for poultry farmers
Iowa poultry farmers have updated their biosecurity measures and made significant investments to help prevent the disease from getting on their farm. All poultry farms need to have a biosecurity plan to qualify for USDA indemnification. 

It is recommended all livestock premises have an official premises identification number, which may be obtained for free by contacting the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Information on how to obtain premise identification is at iowaagriculture.gov/animalIndustry/premiseIdentificationProgram.asp or you can call IDALS toll free at 888-778-7675.

Guidelines to help producers update on-farm security
The Center for Food Security and Public Health, at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has produced numerous information materials to help farmers update biosecurity measures on their farm. Suggestions include:

•Establish a line of separation to isolate poultry from potential sources of avian influenza infection. Follow biosecurity protocols for any person or materials that cross the line.

•Create a perimeter buffer area as an outer control boundary, set up around the poultry houses to keep vehicles and equipment which have not been cleaned and disinfected and personnel not following biosecurity entry protocols from contaminating areas near the poultry houses.

•Employees play a very important role in securing the health of birds on a housing site. By following specific biosecurity steps, employees can minimize the risk of bringing avian influenza virus to a site.

•Pests such as wild birds, rodents and insects can carry avian influenza onto a housing site. Biosecurity measures can help keep pests out and ensure the health of the birds on a site.

•Follow proper cleaning and disinfection protocol for all equipment

•Dead birds should be disposed of in a manner that prevents the attraction of wild birds, rodents, and other animals and avoids the potential for cross-contamination with birds from other facilities.

•Manure and spent litter should be removed in a manner to prevent exposure of susceptible poultry (either on or off the farm of origin) to avian influenza virus.

Planning is ongoing, valuable lessons were learned last year
In addition to the work by poultry farmers, state and federal partners have taken numerous steps to learn from the “bird flu” outbreak last year and to prepare for any future outbreaks. 

The Iowa response to avian influenza operates under a unified command involving the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services. “We also work closely with partners in the poultry industry as well as other state agencies, including the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Department of Natural Resources,” says Northey.

Steps taken to thwart another potential outbreak of avian influenza include:

•Following the outbreak last year, both agencies (IDALS and USDA/APHIS) anticipated in after action reviews to evaluate the response and identify areas for improvement. 

•Both IDALS and USDA APHIS have committed to depopulating affected birds within 24-hours to reduce the amount of virus in the environment and minimize the risk of the disease spreading to and killing other birds.

•IDALS has met with Iowa Turkey Federation, representatives from Tyson and West Liberty Foods, and ISU Extension several times to discuss biosecurity preparedness, composting protocols, and other proactive policies for improving readiness.

•IDALS, in conjunction with Iowa DNR and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, have created guidance document for poultry premises to assist in preparedness and planning for avian influenza.

•Convened meetings with individual livestock groups to discuss animal health emergency planning and revising and updating the statewide Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) plan.

Summary of 2015 avian influenza outbreak
The USDA has described the H5N2 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak of 2015 as the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. Nationwide there were 223 detections of HPAI from Dec. 19, 2014 through June 17, 2015. There were 48 million birds in 21 states affected, but Iowa and Minnesota were the most severely impacted.

In Iowa, there were a total of 77 premises in 18 counties and 31.5 million birds were affected with the disease. The first case was confirmed on April 14, 2015 on a turkey farm in Buena Vista County. The final case was confirmed on June 17 at layer farm in Wright County. In total there were 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail order hatchery, and five backyard flocks impacted by the disease.

All “bird flu” quarantines from last year have now been lifted
All HPAI quarantines have been lifted and all but one of the 72 commercial poultry farms that had quarantines on their facilities having begun the restocking process or are fully restocked. To lift the quarantine, all sites completed the cleaning and disinfection process and had negative environmental tests. They also underwent a 21-day fallow period following disinfection.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture had responsibility for maintaining safe movement of poultry and poultry products from farms that were affected by HPAI. IDALS issued a total of 3,700 movement permits to 42 states and the Virgin Islands. This includes 2,323 permits issued for movements within Iowa and 1,377 permits have been issued for movements out of state.

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