Avian flu finding in Alaska reiterates need for caution


HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two years after a deadly form of an avian influenza virus decimated poultry flocks across the U.S., Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is reminding growers of the importance of maintaining biosecurity practices on their operations.

The secretary’s remarks come on the heels of a mallard duck in Alaska testing positive for the H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus that was found in poultry flocks in 2014.

“We’re entering the season when migratory birds are leaving their summer homes and traveling south along one of several flyways across the United States,” said Redding. “We’ve found HPAI in North America this fall, so it’s possible that the disease could be carried over Pennsylvania. If that happens, having good biosecurity measures in place will go a long way to ensuring the safety of our poultry flocks.”

First case

The Alaska case is the first case of HPAI found in the country since June 2015. From 2014-15, the outbreak affected 211 commercial operations and 21 backyard flocks with 7.4 million turkeys and 43 million chickens across 21 states.

It cost the poultry industry $1.6 billion in direct losses and an estimated $1.7 billion in indirect and future costs. Many poultry growers updated management and biosecurity plans following the initial outbreak in Fall 2014.

Redding urged growers to maintain the extra emphasis on biosecurity by continuing to follow those guidelines, not only to minimize risk, but for the greatest chance of reimbursement in case their flocks would have to be depopulated.

“It can be easy to become complacent, but we need to remember that the threat of HPAI has not disappeared,” added Redding. “This positive duck is a wake-up call for Pennsylvania — a state with much to lose if our flocks contract HPAI.

Steps to follow

Producers should be extra careful, no matter their style or size of production system, especially if waterfowl could come into close contact with their domestic poultry.

The virus causes no illness in migratory birds, just domesticated poultry, and the mallard tested was found to be perfectly normal.

Anyone who owns or works with poultry, whether on a commercial farm or at a hobby farm, should follow best biosecurity practices such as keeping all areas around your flocks clean, ensuring new birds added to a flock are free of any signs of disease, observing flocks for warning signs of infectious bird diseases, and reporting signs of sick birds immediately.

For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture¬†and click “avian influenza.”


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