Highly pathogenic avian influenza continues to spread, and for the first time in Michigan, a commercial operation has tested positive.
The announcement of a HPAI-positive flock of 35,000 turkeys in Muskegon County on May 10 prompted swift action, including a quarantine of the farm, depopulation of the flock, and a decision by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) director Gary McDowell to stop 2022 poultry and waterfowl exhibitions in Michigan until the state goes 30 days without a new detection of HPAI in domestic poultry.
The ban applies to (but is not limited to) shows, exhibitions, swap meets, petting zoos at fairs, and game bird or waterfowl fair displays. It does not stop egg-hatching exhibits, pigeon races or zoos.
Michigan reported another first May 11 with the detection of HPAI in wild mammals. Three red fox kits, which died from the disease, were collected April 1-14 — and came from three separate dens in Lapeer, Macomb and St. Clair counties, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
While Iowa continues to be the hot spot for the disease, with more than 13.3 million birds affected — including two commercial operations of 5 million-plus birds — Pennsylvania has recently had several new cases in two counties, Berks and Lancaster, with more than 4.2 million birds depopulated May 3-17.
In the U.S., more than 37.9 million birds have been affected by HPAI outbreaks in 34 states since February, according to CDC data. That includes 327 commercial flocks and 148 backyard growers. Infected operations spiked in April, and cases continue in May, pushing more toward rivaling the 50 million-plus birds depopulated because of the disease in 2015.
Avian influenza in birds is very contagious and can cause serious disease and high mortality rates in domestic poultry such as chickens, quail, pheasants, guinea fowl and turkeys. It is mainly spread through direct contact between healthy birds and bodily waste from infected birds — resulting in sudden death without clinical signs; lack of energy and appetite; decreased egg production; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks; purple discoloration of the wattles, comb and legs; and nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, lack of coordination and diarrhea.
HPAI does not present an immediate public health concern, according to USDA, and properly handled and cooked poultry products remain safe to consume.
Before the commercial outbreak in Michigan, the state had 12 backyard flocks test positive with 920 birds.
Much at risk
“MDARD has been preparing for all types of outbreak scenarios, including within a commercial setting, allowing the department to take swift action in partnership with the producer,” state veterinarian Nora Wineland says. “The department has already identified a control area and surveillance zone to monitor for and prevent further spread of the virus.
“We will continue to ask every poultry owner, whether a backyard owner or commercial grower, to take preventative actions to help stop the spread of HPAI. It’s a team effort to defend the flocks in Michigan.”
Michigan produces 5.3 million turkeys each year, creating more than $100 million in economic impact for the state, according to Michigan Allied Poultry Industries. Seventy percent of Michigan turkeys are raised in Ottawa County. Based on U.S. Poultry data, Michigan has a $2.2 billion poultry industry (eggs, turkeys and broilers). The state ranks third in the U.S. with more than 15 million laying hens.
Before the commercial outbreak, HPAI had been detected in backyard flocks in Michigan’s Branch, Kalamazoo, Livingston, Macomb, Menominee, Muskegon, Oakland, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wexford counties.
Even with the best biosecurity program, a highly contagious disease such as this one can still get on a farm, says Allison Brink, executive director of Michigan’s Allied Poultry Industries.
“This is concerning to all Michigan poultry producers, but we have been monitoring avian influenza across the country and knew it was a possibility,” she says. “Michigan poultry farmers work around the clock to protect their birds and ensure a safe food supply. Biosecurity is a priority for farmers every day, not just during a disease outbreak. When a disease is confirmed, Michigan poultry farmers increase their biosecurity measures to protect their flocks from possible exposure.”
“Farms that have completed biosecurity plans and been audited in that process are eligible for indemnity,” Brink notes.
When asked if the disease was airborne and possibly spread through ventilations systems, Brink said that has not been confirmed in the U.S.
According to USDA, as of May 18, here’s a rundown of affected poultry operations, both commercial and backyard, for American Agriculturist’s circulation area:
- Delaware: three commercial operations; 1,438,600 birds
- Maine: 12 backyard flocks; 893 birds
- Michigan: 12 backyard flocks; one commercial operation; 35,920 birds
- New Hampshire: one backyard flock; 150 birds
- New Jersey: one backyard flock (reported May 17); 10 birds
- New York: seven backyard flocks; one commercial gamebird operations; 9,502 birds
- Ohio: one backyard flock; eight birds
- Pennsylvania: 14 commercial operations; 4,236,200 birds
While human health risk is low regarding HPAI, Michigan’s 45 local health departments are working in conjunction with state partners to monitor those at higher risk for exposure and help protect overall public health, says Norm Hess, executive director, Michigan Association for Local Public Health.
“Local health officers are an essential part of emergency response, including HPAI, by monitoring and assisting responders to limit potential spread,” he says.
Here are some suggested biosecurity measures:
- Prevent contact between domestic and wild birds by bringing them indoors or ensuring their outdoor area is fully enclosed.
- Wash your hands before and after handling birds, as well as when moving between different coops.
- Disinfect boots and other gear when moving between coops.
- Don’t share equipment or other supplies between coops or other farms.
- Clean and disinfect equipment and other supplies between uses. If it cannot be disinfected, discard it.
- Use well water or municipal water as drinking water for birds.
- Keep poultry feed secure so there is no contact between the feed or feed ingredients and wild birds or rodents.
Poultry owners and caretakers should watch for unusual deaths, a drop in egg production, a significant decrease in water consumption, or an increase in sick birds. If avian influenza is suspected, contact MDARD immediately at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after hours).
All cases in commercial and backyard flocks are listed on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website at aphis.usda.gov.
Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.