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State Agriculture Leaders Urge Poultry Growers to be on Guard for Deadly Bird Flu

High Path Avian Influenza Outbreaks in 12 Countries, Could Enter U.S. Through Migratory Flyways

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland Department of Agriculture is calling for a renewed effort this winter by all poultry producers to intensify their biosecurity efforts. Recent High Path Avian Influenza outbreaks in Western Europe, Russia, Israel, India, Korea, and now Japan mean Maryland poultry growers, large and small, are at a much higher risk of seeing High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) destroy their flocks.

“While we have been fortunate to date, we must be vigilant and cannot afford to take any risks. All growers, no matter their flock size or location, must increase their vigilance and take precautions now,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “We know it’s difficult to maintain a high level of biosecurity alert day after day, but it is better than the alternative. We have to do all we can to keep this virus out of our poultry flocks.”

The Eurasia HPAI outbreaks are caused by HPAI H5N8, which has very close similarities to the virus that caused so much devastation in the United States in 2015.  In Japan, the very recent HPAI outbreaks are caused by HPAI H5N6 – a new HPAI viral strain – and it is too early to tell how much devastation it will cause.

“These two HPAI viruses are a real threat that our growers must take seriously,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Radebaugh. “These viruses can be carried by waterfowl migrating this winter southward across the Bering Strait into Western Canada and could be introduced into the lower 48 states through one of the four U.S. migratory flyways.”
To maintain a sanitary, bio-secure premise, each grower shall, at a minimum:

  • Restrict access to poultry by posting a sign stating “Restricted Access,” securing the area with a gate, or both.
  • Take steps to ensure that contaminated materials on the ground are not transported into the poultry growing house or area.
  • Provide the following items to anyone entering or leaving any area where poultry are kept:
    • Footbaths and foot mats with disinfectant;
    • Boot washing and disinfectant station;
    • Footwear change or foot covers.
  • Cover and secure feed to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing it.
  • Cover and properly contain poultry carcasses, used litter, or other disease-containing organic materials to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing them and to keep them from being blown around by wind.
  • Allow MDA to enter the premises during normal working hours to inspect your biosecurity and sanitation practices. Growers should report any unusual bird deaths or sudden increases in very sick birds to the Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810 or after hours to 410-841-5971.  All growers and others interested in HPAI are strongly encouraged to read up about HPAI and biosecurity measures on the MDA website.

HPAI can be easily transmitted from bird to bird and from contaminated equipment to birds. Prior to 2014, there have been only three HPAI outbreaks in commercial poultry in U.S. history (1924, 1983 and 2004). To date, the HPAI strains that have been found in the United States have not been detected in humans; however, similar viruses have infected humans in other countries. While the risk of human infection is very low, people in direct contact with known infected or possibly infected birds should take precautions to protect against infection.  This includes wearing appropriate protective equipment when exposures could occur and maintaining good hygiene. These recommendations can be reviewed at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h5/worker-protection-ppe.htm.  In general, everyone 6 months old and older should get the yearly flu vaccine; this can prevent someone exposed to HPAI being infected by multiple influenza viruses.

While there is no evidence that people can acquire HPAI by eating poultry products, all poultry identified with HPAI are destroyed and prohibited by law from entering the marketplace.  As a general reminder, all poultry and eggs should be handled properly and cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165° F.

For more information visit the CDC website and the CDC’s Recommendations for Worker Protection.

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IMPORTANT Note to Editors:

  • In the event that a Maryland poultry operation has a confirmed case of HPAI, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce the arrival through a press release.
  • All editors and reporters who intend to cover HPAI issues are strongly encouraged to peruse the background information on our website at www.mda.maryland.gov/avianflu as well as the considerable information provided by USDA. (The links to USDA information are on our webpage.) Animal Health experts will likely be much too busy handling this emergency to conduct routine informational interviews. We encourage you to read this information and ask your background questions now.
  • During an incident, we will post updates on our new Bird Flu Blog.
  • MDA will also be active on social media, especially on Twitter. We have established a dedicated Twitter feed @MdBirdFlu for information about bird flu in Maryland. Our main Twitter account is @MdAgDept.

Contact Information

If you have any questions, need additional information or would like to arrange an interview, please contact:

Jason Schellhardt
Director of Communications
Telephone: 410-841-5888

Megan Guilfoyle
Public Information Officer
Telephone: 410-841-5889

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