The egg industry is a vital part of the food supply chain, producing 96.9 billion eggs in 2020. Egg consumption is also steadily rising in the United States, increasing at a steady rate of 15% in the past 20 years. However, this steady growth and demand for eggs are in jeopardy due to the current avian flu outbreak in the United States.
As an egg producer, the threat of the avian flu puts your business and livelihood at risk. However, there are specific steps you can take to protect yourself and your livestock from the avian flu to ensure that your business stays afloat. In this article, we’re discussing the signs of avian flu and the steps that egg producers should take for prevention to protect the health and safety of themselves and the birds affected by influenza.
What Is the Avian Flu?
Avian influenza (or “bird flu”) is a disease affecting the respiratory system in chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and other birds. The virus is categorized based on its pathogenicity, which is either low or high depending on the combination of proteins in which the disease is classified. Low or high pathogenicity determines the likelihood of the disease spreading in poultry, so higher pathogenicity means the disease is more likely to spread. However, low pathogenicity avian flu is more common in birds in the United States, but certain strains of influenza can be highly pathogenic in chickens and other domesticated birds.
What Are the Signs of Avian Flu?
Detecting the avian flu early is the key to preventing the spread of the virus and limiting its impact on your livestock. Some of the major indicators of avian influenza in birds include:
*Sudden death without prior symptoms
*Lethargy and decreased appetite
*Decrease in egg production
*Swelling of tissue around the eyelids
*Discoloration of tissue on the legs
*Wheezing or difficulty breathing
*Discharge from the nose and coughing or sneezing
While unexplained death in birds happens occasionally, having a large percentage of your flock die suddenly may signify that your birds are infected.
Protection From the Avian Flu
The transmission of the avian flu happens through feces and respiratory droplets from infected birds. While these are the primary vehicles for spreading the virus, clothes, equipment, shoes, and other pests also play a role in spreading the avian flu. This is why practicing biosecurity in all areas of your operation is the key to preventing the spread of the avian flu.
Restrict visitors and activity around flock areas
The caretaker of the flock should be cautious when entering other poultry facilities and outside visitors should be restricted. All required visitors must thoroughly wash their hands before entering the poultry facility and clean and disinfect shoes and clothing upon exiting the operation. Disposable gloves should be worn, and anyone who handles the domesticated birds or equipment should adhere to strict handwashing and changing of clothes.
Avoid sharing poultry equipment and tools
Sharing lawn equipment and tools with your neighbors or other bird owners can accelerate the spread of disease among your flock. If you must bring equipment or tools home, ensure that these items are cleaned and disinfected before returning to your property.
Minimize exposure to wild birds and pests
It’s essential that the primary caretaker of the flock ensures that wild birds and rodents are kept out of the facilities housing your domesticated birds. You should make sure that your livestock doesn’t contact migratory waterfowl and other common types of wild birds. If your livestock is exposed to these types of birds, the introduction of germs can lead to an outbreak of the avian flu and infect your flock.
Disinfect before entering human areas
If you’re near other birds or other bird owners, cleaning and disinfecting poultry cages and equipment before going home is essential. Birds in close contact with other poultry must be quarantined from the flock for a minimum of 14 days which will allow the birds time to show if they have been infected with the disease while off the farm. Any new birds should be kept away from the existing flock for 30 days before introducing them to the rest of your flock.
Report and track sick birds
Sudden and drastic instances of widespread death among your flock should be immediately reported to officials. If you see any of the signs outlined above, you should contact your agricultural extension office, animal health center, or call the USDA directly at 1-866-536-7593. Reporting any unexplained illnesses or deaths allows the authorities to deal with the birds safely and help prevent the further spread of the virus. If it’s not possible to report sick birds to authorities, alert your neighbors or community leaders immediately.
In addition to the above guidelines, the checklist below will help to prevent the spread of the avian flu:
*Keep poultry pens and facilities protected from outside birds and pests
*Draw water from secure sources that wild birds or rodents do not have access to
*Designate footwear only to be worn in the facilities to prevent spreading infected material from spreading
*Secure feed bins to prevent infection introduced by wild birds or rodents
*Track infected lot in a food manufacturing software solution
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