April 23, 2015 | By: Aimee Nielson

A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza, HPAI H5N2, is spreading through Midwestern poultry flocks by way of migratory ducks and geese. Currently no birds in Kentucky are infected, however, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment specialists urged all poultry producers to take precautions and to stay aware.

“We want everyone to be aware of the situation and to take measures to protect their birds,” said Lynne Cassone, pathologist at the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. “Hopefully, we’ll avoid it altogether, but if not, we are prepared to handle an outbreak.”

Cassone stressed that the current strain present in eight Midwestern states is highly contagious to poultry. It is not a threat to humans or pets, but is obviously concerning to the poultry producers in the affected states.

Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, is a group of viruses that can infect domestic and wild birds. The viruses are classified by their ability to cause illness and death into either a low pathogenic avian influenza or a highly pathogenic avian influenza. The current outbreak is the only occurrence in more than 30 years, except for a small 2004 HPAI event in Texas that affected about 7,000 birds.

UK poultry specialist Tony Pescatore said that while the millions of sick birds mentioned in the media may sound astounding, they represent only about 1 percent of the total poultry population in the United States.

“I’m not trying to minimize it,” he said. “This is a big deal, and it’s hitting some commercial growers very hard. We have a lot of poultry growers in Kentucky with very large flocks, quite a few small flocks and backyard flock owners who are concerned as well.”

Pescatore urged all growers to follow some simple FLU biosecurity and prevention guidelines.

F—Flock observation—Early detection is very important to stop the spread of disease. Growers need to observe flocks daily and note changes in appearance, behavior and drinking and eating habits.

L—Limit traffic—Contaminated clothing and equipment can spread avian influenza between poultry premises. Keep a log of visitors and vehicles on the farm. Be aware of places visitors may have had contact with birds or their droppings such as hunting lands, ponds, pet stores, zoos and parks. Visitors can accidently bring disease to the farm.

“At minimum, it’s a good idea to have visitors and workers put on clean boots to help stop disease from spreading,” Pescatore said. “I can’t stress how important cleanliness is where HPAI is concerned.”

U—Unwanted critters—avian influenza can be spread through the feces and bodily fluids of infected birds, so keep poultry from coming into contact with wild birds. Pescatore said it’s a good idea to keep areas mowed around poultry houses and coops to control wild birds and rodents. Keep all other animals out of the chicken house. Growers should isolate new or returning birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days.

Signs of avian influenza include sudden death; little to no appetite or energy; little to no egg production; soft or deformed eggs; nasal discharge; coughing, sneezing or breathing difficulty; swelling around the head, neck and eyes; purple discoloration; loss of muscle control; drooping wings; twisting of the head and neck; inability to move and diarrhea. Birds may have the disease for three to seven days before they show signs, and death can occur between 24 and 48 hours after the first sign.

“It’s important to note that many of the symptoms can also be related to other more common poultry ailments,” Pescatore said. “Unfortunately with HPAI, infected birds don’t survive. If you observe unusual symptoms or a large number of deaths in your flock, you need to contact your local veterinarian or the UK VDL.”

The UK VDL will test up to three birds for a $40 fee. The UK VDL and the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Lab are both certified through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network to handle HPAI cases.

“Our two Kentucky labs are certified, fully trained, supplied and ready to respond should an outbreak occur in our state,” said Craig Carter, UK VDL director. “The Kentucky Poultry Federation, the office of the Kentucky State Veterinarian and the Kentucky poultry industry are on very high alert, and we are all working closely together.”

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has several publications about avian influenza and poultry production available at http://afspoultry.ca.uky.edu/poultrypubs#Influenza.


Tony Pescatore, 859-257-7529; Jacquie Jacob, 859-257-7613; Lynne Cassone, 859-257-6716

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