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Swift communication key to limiting the risk of poultry disease outbreaks

30 March 2021, at 11:44am

Excellent systems of communication between farm staff and veterinarians are critical when it comes to managing disease outbreaks and reducing their potential spread.

Eric Heskett, DVM, PhD, at Case Farms in North Carolina, told Poultry Health Today that communication is critical to being able to act as fast as possible to contain outbreaks, identify disease and protect bird health.

Using an example of a broiler breeder manager in Ohio who saw a sudden, 14-fold increase in mortality in a matter of a day (24 hours), Heskett explained how a text message alerted him to a potentially catastrophic disease outbreak and gave him the chance to work immediately to contain any disease risk.

With his first thought being that the birds might have succumbed to an exotic or highly reportable disease, Heskett said he immediately halted movement, put the farm in quarantine and ordered state lab tests.

Having initially identified signs of septicemia, further testing revealed that the infection was caused by Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae — an organism found in the soil and where nitrogenous waste is decomposing.

The breeder manager found that due to significant rainfall, water had entered the bird house, causing extremely wet litter.

“The birds most likely got infected, as some of the birds — seven of the seven birds that presented to the lab — had footpad dermatitis,” Heskett said. “This organism often enters through blemishes or cuts in the epidermis.”

While the natural events leading to the infection meant that it would be hard to prevent it from ever happening again, Heskett said the episode showed how critical rapid communication between farm staff and veterinarians can be.

“[Because he] got my attention immediately, we were able to make decisions on the phone within minutes…[and we] quarantined the site so that we didn’t spread it until we knew what we had,” he said.

“Typically, he sends photos of the mortality chart, photos of birds that he has necropsied on the farm. In this case, with the rapid onset, we needed to get to the diagnostic lab before they closed, so he didn’t send a picture at the time.

“And the good thing there is our relationship with the diagnostic lab; the clinician at the diagnostic lab communicated with me via phone.

“The birds responded very well to treatment, and it did not repeat on the farm,” he added. “It was a happy ending; it was easily treatable, and we moved on.”

Once the birds were moved out of the house and the house cleaned out, Heskett said, the clay subfloor was allowed to dry thoroughly to ensure there wasn’t moisture available for bacteria to grow.