Avian flu found in Georgia birds

Published 3:32 pm Friday, February 2, 2018

At the end of December 2017, a strain of the H7 avian influenza was found in a green-winged teal, a widespread North American duck, collected in McIntosh County on the Georgia coast.

Wild birds have known vectors of avian influenza. Backyard and pastured poultry flocks are especially vulnerable when exposed to their wild cousins, leaving them susceptible to avian influenza.

What does this mean? Exposure to migrating wildfowl can infect backyard chickens. This doesn’t necessarily mean beak to beak contact. It can be beak to manure contact. If your flock is close to a water source such as a lake or pond that may be frequented by wild ducks or geese, it would be prudent to keep your birds isolated from that source.

How do you know if your flock is exposed to the avian flu? If your flock is healthy one day and the next day, most of your birds are dead, that is a good clue. It kills very rapidly. Call me immediately.

Migratory waterfowl have proved to be a natural reservoir for the HPAI, highly pathogenic avian influenza. The letters and numbers that follow like H5N8 are the strains. It was first detected in small flocks in South Africa in 1961. It has now infected flocks in Europe and Asia. It has been found in one of the four major flyways in the United States, the Mississippi flyway. The flyway that it has not been detected in is the Atlantic flyway which affects Georgia.

Georgia State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Cobb said “In light of the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry this year, we challenge all of our poultry producers to redouble their biosecurity efforts.” Gary Black, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner said that “We cannot keep waterfowl from coming to Georgia, but we can keep them and their virus from getting into our domestic poultry by practicing strong biosecurity.”

The first line of defense is to prevent the entry of the virus into the poultry flocks to begin with. This is called “Biosecurity.” These type A influenzas are spread and maintained among wild birds by fecal-oral routes of transmission. The most common time that the virus is spread is when the birds begin to migrate during late summer and fall.

It is next to impossible to control the virus in the wild flocks.  How do we protect this 28-billion-dollar industry in Georgia?

The first step is to move all poultry with outside access into housing immediately or into protected and covered runs. Keep you birds away from wild birds and from areas such as ponds and lakes where wild birds congregate. Restrict access to your property and create a barrier to your birds. Do not allow people who have chickens or other types of fowl near your flock.

Step two is to keep everything clean. Wear clean clothes, scrub and disinfect your shoes before entering your coop.  Have a shoe trough filled with a bleach solution as you walk in and out of the coop. Clean out the cages and change the food and water daily. Clean and disinfect your equipment and cages that come into contact with your birds or their droppings. Remove manure before disinfecting.

The third step is not to bring disease home from the feed store, sale barn or fair. Clean and disinfect your vehicles including tires, cages and equipment. Quarantine any new birds at least 30 days before introducing them to your flock.

Step four is not to use or share any equipment from your neighbor. This includes lawn and garden equipment, tools and poultry supplies.  If you do, clean and disinfect them first.

Step five is to know the warning signs. The warning signs are:

Sudden increase in bird deaths

Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and nasal discharge

Watery and green diarrhea

Lack of energy and poor appetite

Drop in egg production or soft or thin shelled misshapen eggs

Swelling around the eyes, neck and head

Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs

The final step is to report sick birds. Don’t hesitate to call your vet or the extension office if your birds are sick or dying. The USDA operates a toll-free hotline (1-800-536-7593) at no charge with veterinarians to help you.

Remember, you are the best protection your birds have.

What’s going on in Extension?

Jan. 30: Egg candling class, no charge, Harris County Extension Office. Call Martha at (706) 628-4824 register. Georgia Department of Ag is teaching the class. Bring valid identification.

Feb. 8: MGEV meeting 7 p.m. at the Ag Center

Feb. 19: Beekeepers Meeting 7 PM at the Ag Center

Feb.y 20: TCCA meeting 7 p.m. Dinner costs $6; call for reservations (706) 443.7697 Topic: 4-H and FFA Activities. Program starts at 7:30 PM

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 144 Sam Walker Drive, LaGrange. 30240 (706) 883-1675. Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.