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Avian Influenza Update

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Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and Health

Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a problem in commercial and backyard poultry in the Unites States (US) with over 60 million birds affected. Since the start of the outbreak in 2022, 879 flocks (347 commercial and 532 backyard flocks) have been confirmed with HPAI in the US. Many wild birds and mammals have been affected as well. Five backyard flocks and one commercial flock have been confirmed with HPAI during this outbreak in Oklahoma. The latest was detected in a backyard flock in Carter County on October 16, 2023. For a complete listing of domestic birds, wild birds, and mammals affected by HPAI visit 2022-2023 Detection of High Path Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/avian-influenza/2022-hpai.

Avian influenza (AI) is a highly contagious viral disease. The virus is classified as either Low Path Avian Influenza (LPAI) or HPAI depending on the virulence. This virus infects many food producing birds such as chickens and turkeys while it commonly resides in migratory waterfowl and many other wild birds. Most often ducks, geese, and wild birds harbor the virus in the intestinal tract without having any clinical signs of the disease. The virus is shed in the feces and respiratory secretions from infected birds. Poultry can be infected with the virus when they come in direct contact with infected birds or consume feed that is contaminated with the virus. The virus can be spread indirectly through objects like shoes, clothes, or equipment contaminated with the virus.

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the severity of the virus and the organ system affected. LPAI usually results in no clinical signs or only mild problems. However, HPAI has many different clinical signs. Death with no symptoms is a common finding. Respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal discharges may be seen. Depression resulting in loss of appetite and decrease consumption of water may occur. Egg production may be impacted with a decrease in production and/or softshell or misshapen eggs. A bird’s comb, wattle, head, eyelids, and hocks may swell. Combs and wattles may turn purple. Nervous system disorders including tremors, incoordination, and unusual positions of the head may be seen. Diarrhea has been reported in some cases. For more information about clinical signs visit Defend the Flock-Signs of Illness at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/outbreak-illness/outbreak-illness.

For commercial and backyard poultry flocks, the best defense against HPAI is a sound biosecurity program. Biosecurity is the development and implementation of management procedures intended to reduce or prevent unwanted threats from entering a flock. The protocol is designed to reduce or prevent the spread of unwanted threats through the flock and eliminate any unwanted pathogens that may enter the flock. Lastly, a biosecurity plan is designed to prevent threats from infecting neighboring poultry operations. Biosecurity can be broken down into four basic areas which include traffic, isolation, sanitation, and husbandry.

The first line of defense should be limiting the traffic that enters the area. Poultry operations should have a perimeter buffer area (PBA). For backyard poultry operations, this could be a fence. In commercial operations this may be a fence or road that surrounds the facility. All entry points need to be clearly marked with “Do Not Enter” signs. In a study by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) evaluating factors associated with introduction of HPAI in layer farms in the US, the presence of a gate was found to be protective against the introduction of the virus. Gates with signage may encourage people to follow biosecurity protocols.

Inside the PBA, a line of separation (LOS) needs to be established. The LOS isolates the birds from possible sources of infections. The LOS is usually the walls of the poultry building plus the entry point.  No person should cross this line without following proper biosecurity protocols. Producers should provide visitors with clean coveralls and disposable shoe covers. Visitors should wash their hands before and after visiting the facility. All visitors should dip their shoes in a disinfectant solution when entering and exiting the facility. Also, no other animals, wild or domestic should cross the LOS.

Sanitation is one of the most important parts of a biosecurity plan. All equipment, feeders, waterers, and buildings need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. First, all fecal material and dirt should be physically removed. Next, disinfectants must be applied and allowed sufficient contact time to work properly. Foot baths need to be properly maintained. The property outside the poultry house should be kept mowed and cleaned. Failure to keep the grass cut and/or to promptly clean up feed spills is associated with HPAI.

Poultry producers must also practice good animal husbandry. Flocks need to be observed several times per day. Producers need to collect and dispose of dead birds frequently. Producer should know the clinical signs of a sick bird. Any unusual increases in sick or dead birds should be reported to proper authorities. Backyard producers have several options. They can contact their veterinarian or Oklahoma State University County Extension office. They can also contact the Oklahoma State Veterinarian at 405-522-6141.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) has guidelines for a biosecurity protocol. Commercial and backyard poultry producers should examine the NPIP 14 standards of the biosecurity protocol. Any areas that do not meet the standards need to be addressed. The NPIP biosecurity audit form can be found at http://www.poultryimprovement.org/documents/AuditForm-2018BiosecurityPrinciples.pdf. Additional sources for backyard poultry producers can be found at the USDA Defend the Flock website at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov, Protect Your Poultry From Avian Influenza at  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/bro-protect-poultry-from-ai.pdf or Oklahoma State University fact sheet Small Flock Biosecurity for Prevention of Avian Influenza ANSI-8301.

Avian Influenza is a major threat to the US and Oklahoma poultry industry. It is the responsibility of all commercial and backyard poultry producers to do everything in their power to protect this industry.

Reference 

Swayne, D.E. and Halvorson, D.A. 2003 Influenza. In Y. M. Saif (ed.). Diseases of Poultry, 11th ed. Iowa State Press: Ames, Iowa, 135-160.

Green, A. L., Branan, M., Fields, V. L., Patyk, K., Kolar, S. K., Beam, A., Marshall, K., McGuigan, R., Vuolo, M., Freifeld, A., Torchetti, M. K., Lantz, K., & Delgado, A. H. (2023). Investigation of risk factors for introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus onto table egg farms in the United States,

2022: a case-control study. Frontiers in veterinary science10, 1229008.

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Mammals and Avian Influenza

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Barry Whitworth, DVM, MPH
Senior Extension Specialist

Department of Animal & Food Sciences

Freguson College of Agriculture

At the writing of this article, High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been detected in over 83 million domestic poultry in the United States (US). The outbreak includes commercial and backyard flocks. Most people are aware that poultry may succumb to Avian Influenza but may not know that other animals can be infected with the virus. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a variety of mammals have been infected with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The list of over 200 mammals includes bears, foxes, skunks, coyotes, etc. Even marine animals such as dolphins and seals have been found with the virus. Current Avian Influenza H5N1 infections in poultry, mammals, and livestock in the US can be found at the Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections.

Recently, ruminants have been diagnosed with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the US. The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) reported that neonatal goats displaying neurological clinical signs and death were positive for Avian Influenza. The farm was located in Stevens County Minnesota. The poultry on the farm had recently been depopulated due to HPAI H5N1. According to AVMA News, ten goats died that ranged in age from 5 to 9 days old. Five of the goat kids tested positive for the virus. The strain of Avian Influenza found in the goats was very similar to the previous HPAI H5N1 strain found in the chickens and ducks. How the goat kids were infected is still under investigation. However, the goats and poultry shared the same area and water source.

Over the past several weeks, veterinarians and dairymen have been reporting unusual illnesses in dairy cattle in Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas. According to AVMA News and other reports, the illness appeared in approximately ten percent of the herd. The USDA reported that the illness had a rapid onset and tended to be in older lactating cattle. Clinical signs noticed were a decrease in appetite and milk production. Cows had thick yellow colostrum like milk. Some cattle had abnormal feces and fevers. Some respiratory signs were noticed. According to veterinarians involved in treating the cattle, the most helpful treatment was intravenous and oral fluids. Most cattle recovered in two to three weeks.

After a variety of test were performed on the cattle with the illness described above, no clear cause of the disease was found. This initiated the USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to begin a disease investigation. On March 25th, they reported that HPAI H5N1 had been found in the dairy cattle in Kansas, and Texas. Since this initial announcement, sick cattle in New Mexico, Idaho, Michigan, and Ohio were confirmed with the virus and other states were awaiting test results. Whether a correlation exists between the HPAI H5N1 diagnosis and illness in the dairy cattle is still to be determined.

HPAI H5N1 causes severe clinical signs in domestic poultry and normally results in high mortality rates. At the writing of this article, clinical signs in cattle have been mild and no cattle have died. For this reason, several groups have proposed that HPAI H5N1 should not be used to reference the disease in cattle. The adoption of Influenza A Virus-Bovine (IAV-B) or Bovine Influenza A Virus has been proposed. IAV-B will be used in the remainder of this article as the name of the virus.

Prevention of IAV-B and/or other foreign animal diseases relies heavily on biosecurity. Livestock producers should have a proper biosecurity protocol in place. One key to biosecurity is to try to prevent contact with wildlife. While this can be difficult, keeping wild birds away from feeding and watering areas should be a priority. For more information on biosecurity, livestock producers should visit The Center for Food Security and Public Health at https://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/.

The finding of IAV-B in dairy cattle has no impact on the safety of US milk and dairy products. Milk from all sick dairy cattle is discarded and pasteurization kills most bacteria, viruses such as IVA-B, and other pathogens.

On April 1, 2024, the CDC reported a positive human case of Avian Influenza H5N1. The person had been close contact with dairy cattle thought to be infected with IAV-B. The patient has conjunctivitis and is recovering. This human infection does not change the CDC’s assessment of H5N1 virus human health risk. The risk continues to be low. However, individuals that deal with animals or birds suspected of having Avian Influenza virus should wear proper protective equipment.

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Further testing will be required to understand the role that HPAI H5N1 virus played or did not play in the above situations. In the meantime, livestock producers who have questions about sick animals should contact their veterinarian. Also, livestock producers should be protecting their livestock with a good biosecurity plan. Livestock producers wanting additional information on IAV-B in ruminants should contact their veterinarian and/or their Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension County Ag Educator.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (2024, March 27). AVMA News. https://www.avam.org/news.  

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2024 April 1). Highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) Virus Infection Reported in a Person in the US. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2024/p0401-avian-flu.html

USDA APHIS (2024, April 1). Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Dairy Herds: Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/sites/default/files/hpai-dairy-faqs.pdf.

 World Organization for Animal Health (2024 March 27). WAHIS. https://wahis.woah.org/#/event-management

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Hazards of Backyard Poultry

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Barry Whitworth, DVM, MPH
Senior Extension Specialist, Department of Animal & Food Sciences, Ferguson College of Agriculture

Having backyard poultry is a popular agriculture enterprise. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 0.8 percent of all households in the United States have chickens. People keep chickens for a variety of reasons with table eggs being one of the more common reasons. Unfortunately, some of these poultry producers are not aware of the hazards that come with keeping poultry because many times they carry pathogens but appear healthy.

Chickens are carriers of several zoonotic diseases. These are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. According to a recent survey in Pennsylvania, a majority of backyard poultry producers were aware of the dangers of avian influenza. However, this study also revealed that far fewer producers were aware of the risk of possible exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The lack of knowledge about the hazards of raising poultry likely contributes to the continued issues of Salmonella outbreaks associated with backyard poultry. In 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,072 illnesses of Salmonella linked to backyard poultry, and 272 of those patients required hospitalization. Oklahoma reported 43 individuals with the disease.

Direct contact with chickens is not the only way to be exposed to the pathogens they carry. The environment in which they live can be a danger due to air quality and waste in the soil. The air in a poultry coop is composed of dust particles, ammonia, pathogens, poultry droppings, and other materials. Breathing the dust while cleaning a poultry coop has been associated with respiratory issues in poultry workers. One study found that human infections are associated with contact with poultry waste and soil. Backyard poultry producers may be exposed to poultry droppings when cleaning equipment or pens.

Most zoonotic diseases can be prevented. Proper hand hygiene is one of the best disease prevention tools available. According to the Pennsylvania study, most poultry producers wash their hands after having contact with their birds. However, that same study found most poultry producers do not wear gloves or cover their mouths when handling animals or animal manure. Backyard poultry producers should wear proper protective equipment when cleaning equipment and pens.

Poultry producers can protect themselves by following some simple rules.

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after having any contact with poultry or any area where poultry are located.  If soap is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Do not kiss or snuggle birds.
  • Do not allow poultry to enter areas where food and drinks are prepared, served and stored.
  • Do not eat or drink where poultry are located.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Clean equipment associated with poultry outdoors.
  • Older adults, pregnant women, children under five, and immunocompromised individuals should be extra careful around poultry.
  • Wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves, and a face mask when cleaning poultry houses.

Having chickens in the backyard can be very rewarding experiences. However, poultry owners should be aware of the potential hazards associated with backyard poultry production and protect themselves. If poultry producers would like more information about hazards associated with backyard poultry, contact your local veterinarian and/or Oklahoma State University County Extension Agriculture Educator. Also, the CDC has a website dedicated to backyard poultry producers’ health. The website can be accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyard-poultry.html.

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Inventions of Agriculture: The Reaper

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Agriculture has been a staple of human society since around 9000 BCE during the Neolithic Era, when humans began developing and cultivating their own food.

For centuries, food production was a slow, tedious process until the invention of agricultural machinery. One such invention was the reaper. Until its time, small grains were harvested by hand, cut with sickles or scythes, hand-raked and tied into sheaves.

While a few had unsuccessfully attempted to create a similar machine, it was Cyrus McCormick who would ultimately be credited with the invention of the first commercially successful reaper in 1831.

McCormick’s invention was a horse-drawn machine used to harvest wheat, a combination between a chariot and a wheelbarrow. He had joined together the earlier harvesting machines into a single, timesaving one. His reaper allowed producers to double their crop size, capable of cutting six acres of oats in just one afternoon. In contrast, it would have taken 12 workers with scythes to do the equivalent in the same amount of time.

McCormick had simply followed in his father’s footsteps. Growing up in Rockbridge County, Virginia, his father had also created several farming implements and even worked to invent a mechanical reaper of his own.

McCormick would patent his invention in July 1834, a year after Obed Hussey had announced the making of a reaper of his own. In 1837, McCormick began manufacturing his machine on his family’s estate.  

In 1847, McCormick recognized Chicago as the future of the agricultural machinery industry. The railroad to Galena was nearing completion, the Illinois and Michigan Canal would soon be open, and a telegraph link to the east was coming. So, in 1847, McCormick, together with his partner and future Chicago mayor Charles M. Gray, purchased three lots on the Chicago River and built a factory where they would produce the reaper. It was the first of many industrial companies that would make their way to the area, making Chicago an industrial leader.

McCormick wasn’t done yet. He purchased an additional 130 acres in Chicago in 1871, but the Great Fire of 1871 threatened to destroy his company when the factory burned. It was his young wife, Nettie Fowler McCormick, who pushed the company forward when she went to the site just days after the fire and ordered the rebuilding of the factory. By 1880, McCormick was the largest machinery producer in Chicago and employment reached 7,000, a whopping fifth of the nation’s total.

McCormick joined the companies of Deering and Plano to form the International Harvester Company in 1902. At its height, the company controlled more than 80 percent of grain harvesting equipment in the world. While the Great Depression would hit Chicago’s agricultural industry hard, McCormick’s invention of the reaper forever changed the face of agriculture.

Resources

Carstensen, Fred. (2005) Agricultural Machinery Industry. Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/29.html

Cycrus McCormick, Mechanical Reaper. (2022) The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Retrieved from https://www.invent.org/inductees/cyrus-mccormick

Although the author has made every effort to ensure the informa­tion in this article is accurate, this story is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substi­tute for historical documents.

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