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Flu Season

Avian flu threatens to re-emerge during waterfowl migration periods.

In early March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) announced that a commercial flock of breeder chickens in Tennessee tested positive for highly pathogenic avian flu, or HPAI. Since then, USDA-APHIS revealed another case of the same H7N9 virus at a second Tennessee farm, and Alabama agriculture officials announced an outbreak of suspected low-pathogenic avian flu affecting three premises in that state.

In addition, low-pathogenic avian flu was reported in Wisconsin and Kentucky, and routine surveillance has found the presence of low-pathogenic avian flu in wild waterfowl in various states.

As a result, poultry and animal disease experts in the college urge commercial poultry producers and small-flock owners in Pennsylvania to ramp up their vigilance and biosecurity.

The strains involved in the recent outbreaks have not been shown to infect people and do not raise food-safety issues, says Eva Wallner-Pendleton, senior research associate and avian pathologist in Penn State's Animal Diagnostic Laboratory. Proper processing, handling, and cooking of poultry and eggs will provide protection from viruses and bacteria, including avian influenza.

Gregory Martin, a Penn State Extension poultry science educator based in Lancaster County, pointed out that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recommends that any poultry flocks kept outdoors be brought under cover during waterfowl migration periods.

"State and federal agriculture officials also strongly urge producers to develop an HPAI flock plan and augment it with a comprehensive biosecurity plan," Martin says. "These plans may be required for producers to receive indemnification for any losses resulting from an avian flu outbreak."

To assist producers in developing a biosecurity plan, Martin says, Penn State poultry scientists and veterinarians have developed a plan template that can be customized for various types of flocks. In addition, a video on how to create an HPAI farm plan can be found online.

Specific recommendations on biosecurity, information on how to recognize the symptoms of avian flu, and guidance on how to report suspected cases can be found on the Penn State Extension avian flu website.

--Chuck Gill