By Nathan Gregory, MSU Extension Service
The Mississippi Board of Animal Health is asking backyard bird owners to be vigilant in their biosecurity procedures after a commercial breeder chicken flock in Lawrence County tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the case to the Mississippi Board of Animal Health, or MBAH, Nov. 5. Samples from the flock were tested at the Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl and confirmed at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.
HPAI is a highly contagious form of avian influenza that can kill entire flocks of infected poultry. The virus can occur naturally in wild aquatic birds and can be spread to poultry.
The virus does not pose a food safety risk; poultry products cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees are still safe to eat. However, rapid spread can shut down commercial and backyard operations.
MBAH State Veterinarian Jim Watson said his agency has quarantined the affected site and is working with the poultry industry to increase surveillance of flocks across the state.
“Birds on the property have been depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease and will not enter the food system,” Watson said. “Anyone involved with poultry production from the small backyard to the large commercial producer should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds.”
MBAH lists the following symptoms for infected birds: coughing, sneezing, incoordination, diarrhea, nasal discharge, sudden death, decreased egg production, lack of energy or appetite, soft-shelled or misshapen eggs, and swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb or hocks.
Jessica Wells, a poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said biosecurity is the key to preventing the disease’s spread. There are several steps producers should take, including washing hands before and after leaving chicken areas. Do not recycle any litter or feed from a suspected site for use as fertilizer or for any other purpose.
“Once avian influenza has entered a poultry flock, it can spread rapidly on the farm by both the fecal-oral route and the respiratory route due to the proximity of the birds,” Wells said. “Objects like clothes, shoes and equipment also transmit the disease, so footwear designated exclusively for the chicken area and changing clothes before entering are imperative.”
Do not handle dead birds with bare hands. To remove dead birds from a poultry area, turn two plastic bags inside out, pick up the bird and invert and seal the doubled bag with the bird inside.
“To dispose of the bird, place the bag in a household trash can or bury it using a shovel without touching it,” Watson said. “To store a dead bird for testing, use clear plastic bags to pick up and store the animal, and place it on cold packs until it can be refrigerated.”
Backyard bird owners can report any sick or dying birds using the Board of Animal Health web portal at https://agnet.mdac.ms.gov/MBAHReportableDiseases/publicreportingform
or use the MBAH animal disaster hotline at 1-888-646-8731.
Visit the MBAH avian influenza frequently asked questions database at https://hpai.ms.gov/information/frequently-asked-questions/ and consult MSU Extension poultry publications for more information at http://extension.msstate.edu/avian-flu.