State Agriculture Department monitors spread of avian flu

The state Department of Agriculture is advising all Connecticut poultry owners to monitor their birds for signs of an avian influenza virus that so far has led to the disposal of more than 7 million chickens and turkeys in 14 western and midwestern states.

There have been no confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic H5 virus in the Northeast.

But there is a potential for it to arrive here via wild birds, especially waterfowl, that are known to have spread the highly-contagious disease to domestic flocks in other states.

“We’re dealing with a virus that came in on wild birds moving out of their winter nesting area and migrating back to their home territory,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Mary J. Lis, who has been participating in regular conference calls with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state veterinarians in the affected regions.

“If it enters the Atlantic Flyway migratory path, we potentially could see it here during the fall migration,” Lis said.

Asian Flyway was likely source

The virus is believed to have originated in the Asian Flyway, and was first detected in the United States last December in California. The USDA has confirmed cases in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways, among both back yard and commercial poultry flocks.

No human cases of the H5 virus have been detected in the United States, Canada, or internationally, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people and the food system to be low.

The states affected include Arkansas, California, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota. Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.

What to look for

Clinical signs in birds include lethargy, respiratory distress, facial swelling, decreased egg production, and sudden death without clinical signs.

Steven K. Reviczky, state agriculture commissioner, urges anyone who notices these signs to contact the department, which offers free necropsy for birds suspected of dying from the virus.

“Everyone has to be vigilant,” Reviczky said. “We very much want to stress that poultry owners need to employ bio-security measures for their birds.”

Domestic vs. wild

Foremost among those measures is keeping domestic birds away from wild ones.

Owners should take appropriate steps including closing holes in coops, installing bird netting and preventing the spread of the virus through manure, equipment, vehicles, egg flats, crates and people whose clothing or shoes have come in contact with the virus.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is responsible for monitoring the wild bird population.

Poultry are monitored

Domestic poultry, estimated to exceed five million in Connecticut, are monitored by the state Agriculture Department in a number of ways.

All poultry and hatching eggs imported into the state must have credentials ensuring that they are disease-free and meet other health standards.
Large commercial poultry or egg-production operations are inspected and birds tested whenever flocks are moved.

A representative sample of chicks at those operations are individually tested when they are very young, and again when they mature into 16-week-old pullets being moved to the laying house.

The chickens are tested again when they are no longer producing eggs and being sold for other purposes. Poultry auctions and live markets are inspected quarterly, and some may be tested monthly.

Domestic birds being entered into agricultural fairs or exhibitions also are required to be tested, although that is done upon invitation of the owner.

Free surveillance program

Any poultry owner seeking to participate in the free quarterly surveillance program should contact the state Agriculture Department at 860-713-2504.

Suspected cases of the virus may also be reported to the USDA’s toll-free number at 866-536-7593.

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