The bird flu is back, infecting millions of domesticated fowl across the nation and interrupting the food supply chain.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is an extremely contagious strain of an intelligent virus that affects wild and domesticated birds. A previous bird flu outbreak occurred in the winter of 2015, with more than 50 million cases reported in 21 states.
Since February of this year, poultry farmers in twice as many states have been affected and have had to cull just as many diseased birds. And while the last outbreak dissipated with the onset of summer, poultry farmers in Tennessee and the Southeast have seen a resurgence of cases in the last few weeks.
Avian influenza primarily affects laying chickens and turkeys and poses a major threat to poultry farmers in the region. Lake Wagner, the owner of Green Valley Poultry Farm in Abingdon, Virginia, is one of many farmers working to mitigate the effects of HPAI with the demand for eggs and poultry products.
“Egg farmers across the US are committed to doing all that is possible to minimize disruption, safeguard the food supply and ensure that eggs still are readily available,” Wagner said.
The Occupational Safety And Health Administration has issued a QuickCard warning poultry workers about the signs of HPAI. Infected birds may have noticeable discharge from their eyes, swollen heads and necks, decreased appetite, and general lethargy. Diseased fowl may also show signs of respiratory illness via sneezing and coughing.
According to a press release by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, residents with backyard chickens can protect themselves and their flocks from avian influenza by handwashing before and after touching birds, regularly disinfecting coops and equipment, and deterring wild birds from the property.
Bird-to-mammal transmission of the avian flu is rare, and the H5N1 strain has not been identified as a risk to public health by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the CDC still recommends that anyone in prolonged contact with poultry wear gloves, a facemask, eye protection, and disposable shoe covers.
Poultry farmers like Wagner are doubling down on biosecurity measures and food safety practices to slow the spread of the virus and ensure that eggs and poultry remain safe for human consumption.
“Keeping a steady supply of safe, nutritious eggs available for our customers and Americans is my responsibility – and our team is doing all we can to protect our flocks.”