US: Pennsylvania poultry producers urged to boost biosecurity

Concerns mount amid recent avian influenza outbreaks
calendar icon 10 March 2022
clock icon 2 minute read

In a press release from Pennsylvania State University, the state's poultry producers are being warned to boost biosecurity amid a rash of avian influenza outbreaks.

The ongoing detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds and domestic flocks in several Eastern and Midwestern states is prompting urgent calls from Penn State poultry experts for flock owners — and others who may come into proximity to flocks — to step up their biosecurity practices.

At risk is Pennsylvania's large poultry industry, the state's second largest agricultural sector with production valued at more than $1 billion annually. Pennsylvania is ranked fourth among states in egg production, and Lancaster County is among the top four counties nationally in sales of poultry and eggs.

As of 28 February, the Eurasian H5N1 strain of avian flu had been confirmed in commercial poultry flocks in Delaware, Kentucky and Indiana; in small backyard or hobby flocks in Michigan, Virginia, Maine and New York; and in about 250 wild waterfowl in nine Eastern states that, like Pennsylvania, are part of the Atlantic flyway for migratory birds.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza, often abbreviated as HPAI, is a devastating disease that kills most poultry that become infected. The natural reservoir for all avian flu viruses, including the HPAI virus of current concern, is migratory waterfowl, which often do not develop symptoms.

A 2014-15 outbreak of HPAI in the Midwest killed more than 50 million birds on commercial poultry farms, causing estimated losses of more than $1 billion. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture estimates that a major HPAI outbreak in the Keystone State could have a total economic impact of $13 billion, including a loss of jobs and wages.

"No confirmed cases of this highly pathogenic H5N1 virus have been reported in Pennsylvania to date," said Gregory Martin, Penn State Extension poultry educator based in Lancaster County. "But with cases in surrounding states and in migratory birds traveling the Atlantic flyway, we should assume that the virus is present in our state."

That means that all flock owners — whether they have two birds or 2 million — should have biosecurity precautions in place, according to John Boney, assistant professor of poultry science and Vernon E. Norris Faculty Fellow of Poultry Nutrition in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Now is the time to revisit your biosecurity plan," said Boney, who serves as leader of Penn State Extension's poultry team. "If you don't have a biosecurity plan, it’s never too late to start one. Preventing the introduction and spread of this devastating disease is essential."

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