Highly pathogenic AI outbreaks have occurred in commercial poultry operations on every continent except Antarctica in the last decade, including this year’s outbreaks in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
The impact of these outbreaks has increased along with the size of the poultry industry. The outbreak in the U.S. in 2015 was the world’s most expensive resulting in a loss of around 50 million birds, and the current H7H9 outbreak in China has claimed over 100 human lives.
Join a group of panelists from around the globe as they discuss steps that could be taken in the laboratory, on the farm and in the board room to better position the industry to deal with this ongoing challenge. READ MORE
“The outbreak of avian influenza here in the UK back in December 2016 has caused untold stress to the poultry and egg sector,” explains Dan England, director of PestFix. “The advent of new Animal & Plant Health Authority (APHA) protocol allows free range birds outdoors, if they can be kept segregated from wild birds. With this rule, the laser technology for bird dispersal comes into its own. Because they are domesticated, the hens are unaffected by the laser.”
One of the farms taking advantage of the technology is Orchard Eggs, based in West Sussex.
“Our birds are housed across 50 acres of orchard and we want to do everything to keep them safe from infection,” says Daniel Hoeberichts, owner of Orchard Eggs. “Once we heard about [laser technology], it seemed like an ideal solution to complement all of our other biosecurity measures.”
Automated lasers are method of repelling unwanted birds without causing harm to the wild birds, the chickens and the surrounding environment. The system being used at Orchard Eggs was developed by Bird Control Group, a Dutch company. The laser is silent and shows effectiveness of 90 to 100 per cent in bird dispersal at farms. This makes it a viable alternative to the expensive method of installing nets at the entire poultry farm.
After years of studying the role of wild birds in outbreaks of avian influenza in domestic poultry flocks, one of Canada’s top public sector veterinarians says the bottom line is farmers need to take precaution in the fall.
John Pasick is the national veterinary science authority for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and he says there’s an annual rhythm to infections. Much like humans tend to suffer more in the fall when kids return to the Petri dish of schools, birds spread disease in the fall during migration.
“The main message from our research is for farmers to maintain good biosecurity measures in the fall when the birds are migrating,” Pasick said in a recent interview. “Pay close attention to every detail during that time because domestic flocks have little natural immunity to diseases.” | READ MORE.
The requirements aim to protect poultry from a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza which has been spreading around Europe recently.
Housing birds is more of an issue for free range producers, but they will retain the ability to market their eggs as free range for the duration of the order. | READ MORE.
Currently, a paper-based visitor register is the global standard for keeping track of who entered or left a farm property at what time and where they’d been previously.
A manual system is slow and leaves room for error, however, neither of which is helpful during a disease emergency, especially in the early days when spread can still be prevented or contained.
“It’s not just livestock that are affected by catastrophic disease outbreaks, it’s just as important for crop and horticulture growers to keep unclean vehicles moving from farm to farm,” says Tim Nelson, CEO of Be Seen Be Safe Ltd. “Uncontrolled disease populations increase exponentially and that’s why control is so important.”
Be Seen Be Safe uses predetermined geo-fence boundaries around a farm business to automatically record movements on and off the property, either through a mobile phone app or an in-vehicle GPS system used by the individual accessing or leaving the premises.
Property owners can download and review their electronic visitor records using a personal login; no movements outside of the pre-determined geo-fence around the property are recorded.
The information is collated and analysed to predict disease spread, and can then be used to electronically contact people within the surrounding area of a possible outbreak, a process that currently is done manually.
It runs in tandem with the company’s customizable Farm Health Monitor software, which lets farm staff record clinical signs of disease on-farm before there is a formal diagnosis as part of regular or special herd visits. The software also allows for inventory management of antibiotics on-farm, by letting users record both purchase and actual use of antimicrobials.
“This is a proactive decision support tool for farmers,” explains Nelson. “The Farm Health Monitor gives you the clinical signs, Be Seen Be Safe provides the movement, and when you overlay the weather on a network of properties, you can start to show risk that you can alert people to.”
“Everybody is worried about catastrophic diseases, but this is also powerful for production-limiting diseases that can be carried from farm to farm,” he adds. “If livestock and poultry sectors start to see cost benefit from this because it is reducing the rate of production-limiting illness, people will get used to observing and preventing instead of diagnosing and treating disease.”
First steps have been taken to build a farm sector-led biosecurity community with the hosting of a successful information day in Guelph recently.
The system is being trialed in the Ontario poultry industry, as well as with large poultry integrators in the United States, and an agreement is in place with a Spanish partner to roll it out to the swine industry in the European Union.
A pilot is also underway with the wine industry in Australia to track the spread of fomites, which can carry disease.
Be Seen Be Safe has received support from the Bioenterprise Seed Funding program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The Ontario poultry industry trials are supported in part through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
The recommendation follows new research that shows migrating birds can help to spread deadly strains of avian flu around the world.
Some strains of bird flu viruses are highly lethal in birds they infect and pose a major threat to poultry farms worldwide.
In rare cases, the viruses can also infect people and cause life-threatening illness.
Researchers investigated how a subtype of bird flu called H5N8 spread around the world following outbreaks in South Korea that began in early 2014.
The virus spread to Japan, North America and Europe, causing outbreaks in birds there between autumn 2014 and spring 2015.
Scientists analysed migration patterns of wild birds that were found to be infected with the H5N8 virus.
The team then compared the genetic code of viruses isolated from infected birds collected from 16 different countries.
Their findings reveal that H5N8 was most likely carried by long-distance flights of infected migrating wild birds from Asia to Europe and North America via their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
The researchers say their findings reinforce the importance of maintaining strict exclusion areas around poultry farms to keep wild birds out.
"Bird flu is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of farmed chickens worldwide," says Samantha Lycett with the University of Edinburgh. "Our findings show that with good surveillance, rapid data sharing and collaboration, we can track how infections spread across continents."
Greater surveillance of wild birds at known breeding areas could help to provide early warning of threats of specific flu virus strains to birds and people, they add.
Deadly bird flu strains – known as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) – can kill up to 100 per cent of the birds they infect within a few days.
The study was conducted by the Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses and involved scientists from 32 institutions worldwide.
This study could only have happened through bird flu researchers around the world pooling resources and working together," adds Mark Woolhouse, also with the University of Edinburgh. "We see this as a model for how scientists should unite to combat infectious diseases of all kinds.
The study is published in the journal Science and was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, COMPARE. The Roslin Institute receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
July 25, 2016 - The H5 avian influenza A virus that devastated North American poultry farms in 2014-15 was initially spread by migratory waterfowl, but evidence suggests such highly pathogenic flu viruses do not persist in wild birds. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital led the research, which appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While wild ducks and other aquatic birds are known to be natural hosts for low pathogenic flu viruses associated with milder symptoms, the results of this study indicate that is not the case with the highly pathogenic flu viruses that are associated with more severe illness. The research suggests that wild ducks and other aquatic birds are not an ongoing source of highly pathogenic flu infection in domestic poultry.
"The findings provide a scientific basis for the decision by officials to use culling and quarantines to stop the 2014-15 outbreak in domestic poultry," said corresponding author Robert Webster, Ph.D., an emeritus member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases. "Now, research is needed to identify the mechanism that has evolved in these wild birds to disrupt the perpetuation of highly pathogenic influenza." | READ MORE.
July 15, 2016 - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is continuing its investigation into an avian influenza situation near St. Catharines, Ontario.
There remains one single premises confirmed to be infected with avian influenza, which is a commercial duck farm. The Agency has established an Avian Influenza Control Zone that covers a 3 km boundary from this farm. All other premises located within this zone, as well as other high risk-contact premises have been placed under quarantine.
The Agency is continuing surveillance and testing within the zone to determine whether there is any additional evidence of avian influenza. To date, all of this testing has been negative.
The Agency continues to monitor this situation closely. The Avian Influenza Control Zone remains in effect until further notice.
July 7, 2016- Preliminary testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed the presence of H5 avian influenza on a duck farm near St. Catharines, Ontario as a low pathogenic subtype. Pathogenicity refers to the severity of the illness caused in birds. Further testing by the CFIA is underway to confirm the precise subtype and strain of the virus. Results are expected within days.
On behalf of the four feather boards in Ontario, the Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC) has issued a heightened biosecurity advisory to all industry personnel operating in the Niagara, Ontario Region. Stakeholders are being asked to implement heightened biosecurity if working on farms or travelling through this area. This includes (but is not limited to): • wearing boots, protection suits, hats and gloves/hand washing; • all deliveries/loading should be the last on the route; and • wash and disinfect the truck’s undercarriage and steps before proceeding with any other delivery/loading. A Producer Advisory is being distributed by staff from the various Boards to all commercial producers registered small flock growers in this Niagara Region. Should you be aware of health concerns in flocks you deal with, please advise the farmer to contact their veterinarian, as well as their Board or call 1-877-SOS-BYRD. Updates will be provided through the FBCC website at www.fbcc.ca. There you will find the most current incident status information.
The CFIA has placed the farm under quarantine to control disease spread and will determine a surrounding surveillance zone for further testing and movement control measures. The industry sector has been notified to adopt enhanced biosecurity practices.
All birds on the infected premises will be humanely euthanized and disposed of,in accordance with provincial environmental regulations and internationally accepted disease control guidelines, and the Province of Ontario will provide technical support on required carcass disposal. Once all birds have been removed, the CFIA will oversee the cleaning and disinfection of the barns, vehicles, equipment and tools to eliminate any infectious material that may remain.
On behalf of the four feather boards in Ontario, the Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC) has issued a heightened biosecurity advisory to all industry personnel operating in the Niagara, Ontario Region.
Stakeholders are being asked to implement heightened biosecurity if working on farms or travelling through this area. This includes (but is not limited to):
• wearing boots, protection suits, hats and gloves/hand washing;
• all deliveries/loading should be the last on the route; and
• wash and disinfect the truck’s undercarriage and steps before proceeding with any other delivery/loading.
A Producer Advisory is being distributed by staff from the various Boards to all commercial producers registered small flock growers in this Niagara Region. Should you be aware of health concerns in flocks you deal with, please advise the farmer to contact their veterinarian, as well as their Board or call 1-877-SOS-BYRD.
Updates will be provided through the FBCC website at www.fbcc.ca. There you will find the most current incident status information.
April 29, 2016 - In early 2016 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was identified in commercial poultry flocks in the United States (U.S.) and Mexico. Wild birds, known carriers of the influenza virus, are believed to be the source of the outbreak in the U.S. These outbreaks highlight the importance of biosecurity.
Wild birds are now in migration. As a result, the health of commercial poultry and small flocks is at risk. Avian influenza spreads when wild birds and people (carrying viruses on their hands, boots, tires etc.) come into contact with commercial/small flocks. Producers and small flock owners are encouraged to check their biosecurity plans to stop disease from flying, walking or rolling into their flock.
Farm staff and service providers who are unwell also pose a risk to flock health. Recently two Canadian commercial poultry flocks tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus. The H1N1 influenza virus causes human respiratory illness and can be transmitted to poultry. In poultry, the infection may go unnoticed, or it may cause mild respiratory illness and decreased egg production. Although the impact of H1N1 is less severe than HPAI, prevention is important to minimize the potential for new viruses to develop in the bird population. Anyone with respiratory illnesses should avoid contact with poultry. For information on influenza and human health refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Commercial poultry producers and small poultry flock owners are encouraged to protect their flocks by checking their biosecurity plans and making sure that their plans are practiced every day. For more information, please see our webpage: Protecting Your Flock from Influenza – Have You Got It Right?
For more information on biosecurity, visit www.inspection.gc.ca/biosecurity/birds
February 6th, 2004, British Columbia - the first Canadian avian influenza outbreak. By April 5, 2004, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had ordered 19 million birds euthanized on many farms across the Fraser Valley. In the years to come – 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2015 – other Canadian outbreaks of this extremely contagious zoonotic disease (H5 and H7 types) followed.
Tracking the spread of such a disease is, to put it mildly, not easy. Anecdotally, during the late 2014 outbreak in B.C., it took 40 people three months to nail down who had visited which farms, the farms they had visited after that, who had been on those farms, where they had gone afterwards and so on. There was also the need to find out which vehicles had been used, because sometimes vehicles have multiple drivers.
There had to be a better way. Enter Tim Nelson, who at the time was working at the Poultry Industry Council. Nelson was keen to create a reliable and lightning fast method to track people and vehicles during an emergency, thereby efficiently preventing the spread of disease. But how? “We have visitor record books on each farm, but as we saw in B.C., it’s impossible to collate the information in them in any meaningful way, even if you had a lot of time,” Nelson notes. “You have to use technology. We looked into having the people and vehicles that visit farms getting RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, but that would require every farm to have a $5000 RFID reader, and would rely on everyone using it all the time. Then we looked at tracking visitors through GPS on smartphones, but people don’t want their every movement tracked and I don’t blame them.”
The answer, Nelson thought, would be a system that still uses the GPS on smartphones and tablets, but one that’s only alerted when you visit a farm. That way, the privacy of a person’s other movements would be completely protected. Even better would be a system wherein an individual visitor’s or farm’s identity would only be accessed in an emergency.
At that point in time (2010), “geo-fencing” (mapping of the geographical boundary of a property using GPS) was already available, but only two companies in North America were doing it. Nelson approached one and began working with its staff to build a system that would not only store information on when users entered a geo-fenced farm tproperty, but a system that, in an emergency, could instantly cross-reference and analyze many movements, producing information that could immediately be acted on. This task took Nelson and several software engineers the better part of two years. “It seems simple, but it’s a complex database that has to analyze a large amount of data,” Nelson says. “Also, part of what took so long to build the app was that it had to be available on three platforms – BlackBerry, Androids and IOS.”
But finally, there it was. Something that could do, in moments, what took 40 people three months to do in B.C. last winter – and much, much more.
HOW IT WORKS
Anyone with the free “Be Seen Be Safe” app on their smartphone or tablet automatically triggers a signal the moment they enter a geo-fenced property. The farmer receives an immediate notification of who has come on-farm. In addition, anytime they like, farmers can check farm visitor records (basically, it’s their online visitor record book) from a secure personal login. The database stores farm visit information that includes visitor ID, contact number, previous farms visited (risk assessment level), time in and time out. The person who is visiting the farm property is “greeted” through the app with a welcome message. The identity of individual visitors and farms are not accessible except by system administrators, and only come into play in an emergency. Every data packet is encrypted.
In a disease outbreak (starting with a specific flagged farm), visitor information is analyzed according to given parameters and mapped to predict disease spread in real time. Things like wind direction, wind speed, temperature, humidity and so on are overlaid onto the map. To contain the outbreak, farmers and visitors receive immediate notifications by text message so they can implement enhanced biosecurity measures.
“The system is no more intrusive on user privacy than a farm visitor log book,” Nelson says. “Data on visits is permanently deleted after a year. There is no battery drain with the app, as it only runs for a split second when one’s device crosses a geo-fenced property, and the data exchanges are extremely small, so users won’t notice any usage increase.”
UP AND RUNNING
In 2014, Nelson tried the app out with about 100 people (company reps and other industry personnel) and by May 2015, he and his team had worked out the bugs. In October 2015, a two-year “Be Seen Be Safe”poultry project was launched, involving every producer belonging to Egg Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg & Chick Commission and the Turkey Farmers of Ontario (almost 900 farms). These associations have paid the first two years’ cost for each farm for initial geo-fencing and monitoring, and 75 per cent of that cost is being reimbursed by a federal government grant through Growing Forward 2.
At this point, the geo-fencing is done, and each farmer in the project is receiving an email with the farm and its geo-fence marked on a map. Once the farmer validates the farm/geo-fence location and provides a few more details, such as other livestock present on the farm, things go “live.” Each farmer will receive two “Be Seen Be Safe” farm gate signs (or more, if required) to introduce the program, as well as informational packages to give to those who regularly or occasionally visit the farm. “Farmers can start accessing farm visit records online from day one,” says Nelson. “We are asking that all those who come on a farm and also visit other farms – such as egg collectors, vets, feed and pullet deliverers, catchers, vaccination crews and so on – to sign on, to download the app and if applicable, to talk to us about having their vehicle GPS information on the system.”
Nelson says the more service providers on the system, the more complete the network and the better the chance of preventing disease spread. “Be Seen Be Safe” is currently looking at modelling on-farm visitor movement in order to predict the movement of service providers who do not want to be part of the system. However, Nelson says, “I can’t understand anyone not wanting to be part of this. It’s free to service providers and suppliers and let’s face it, preventing disease spreading in agriculture is of huge benefit to everyone. We all earn a living from it.”
In the event of an outbreak, text message emergency alerts can be programmed to make a noise when they arrive on a device, thus alerting the user to look at his or her phone or tablet. Beyond that point, however, the system does not currently ask that emergency outbreak texts be responded to. This means the system – and the industry association system administrator in question – has no way of “knowing” that emergency alerts have been received and that people are acting accordingly. Nelson has thought about this, and is looking into how the system could facilitate follow-up.
FARM HEALTH MONITOR
Along with “Be Seen Be Safe,” Nelson and business partner Joel Sotomayor have developed “Farm Health Monitor” (FHM), which is available on a limited basis right now. Nelson calls it a social networking platform for diseases.
If symptoms or bird deaths are noted on a particular farm, the farmer can input this information into the system, which has mapping and analysis capability. If two or more farms within a given radius report similar information, a warning will be sent out to every related farm (poultry, for example) in that region, but as with “Be Seen Be Safe,” the identities of individual farms always stay protected. “The warning will prompt farmers to check their flocks carefully, keep a close eye over the next few days, and report if necessary,” Nelson says. “It’s a true early warning system. Poultry vets will also be alerted, and can also alert one another through the system.”
Nelson says he developed FHM because, catastrophic outbreaks aside, it’s very important in his opinion that producers have an efficient system for containing and managing production-limiting diseases. “We have no idea how much these types of diseases cost, how they spread,” he says. “They are not tracked at present. So, if we can get a handle on this and reduce the impact and perhaps prevent them from reaching more farms, that could save a lot of time, money and stress on birds and people.”
For more information, visit: https://beseenbesafe.ca and www.farmhealthmonitor.com
On April 27, 2015, Center Fresh Group in Iowa was hit with avian influenza. Within a matter of weeks, Center Fresh Group lost 9.9 million birds – 8 million layers and 1.9 pullets. Just six weeks earlier, Center Fresh Farm, which suffered a 3.8-million layer loss, had passed a full government-audited biosecurity inspection. The audit went so well, in fact, that it received a score of 100 per cent. When AI hit the U.S., Jim Dean, CEO of Center Fresh Group, thought that they’d be fine. “We thought we had the most robust biosecurity program that we could even think of,” he told the crowd at the 2015 International Egg Commission conference in Berlin, Germany. “We thought that we were fine.”
When all was said and done, though, they weren’t fine, and Center Fresh Group suffered enormous losses. Center Fresh Egg Farm lost 3.8 million layers; Sioux County Egg Farm lost 1.7 million layers; Centrum Valley Farms lost 2.5 million layers, and Sioux Center Pullets lost 1.9 million pullets. Since that time, Center Fresh Group has been working to repopulate its operations. The process began in September 2015 and will carry on into the first quarter of 2017.
When did you first find out that AI had hit your operations?
JD: I was in Las Vegas at the Urner Barry conference. My son received a call from our company veterinarian who said that we had high mortality and textbook clinical signs of avian influenza. Considering how fast the disease was moving and the number of infected farms, I had mentally prepared for the worst. I told my sons that we would get through this and that we will recover. Put your best face on and go out and tell the industry we’ve been hit… Hopefully to help others to get better prepared.
What steps did you take to stop further losses to AI?
JD: We lost both Center Fresh and Sioux County on the same day; the farms are four miles apart. When Centrum Valley was infected in mid-May, my son decided to euthanize the infected flock that night to stop the spread of the disease. We were able to save one farm about a half mile away, which ultimately saved 3.5 million birds within four miles. Due to our success in stopping the disease our government is now recommending euthanizing infected flocks within 24 hours.
How prepared would you say you were for this event?
JD: We had initiated extra measures to fight off the disease, but we feel there was so much of the virus in the air that it was attaching to almost anything that moved, including wind, so it broke through the best bio-security programs.
How bio-secure would you say your facilities were at the time?
JD: On March 11, 2015, Center Fresh Farm went through a full government audited bio-security inspection. We received a score of 100 per cent without any deficiencies. We were infected April 27, 2015.
What happened following that first call?
JD: We notified the appropriate government agencies and started to develop an action plan. It would be impossible to list all the measures taken to try to mitigate the spread. There were many lessons learned.
How does one go about removing so many infected birds?
JD: It took a lot of people. We were euthanizing and removing 200,000 birds per day. We couldn’t keep ahead of the spread of the virus. The disease causes a horrible painful death for the birds over a three to four-day period.
Managing the mass depopulation of our flocks was overwhelming, time-
consuming and difficult for our teams. What was terrible is that the disease was killing our hens more quickly than we could remove and humanely depopulate them. We also learned that swift depopulation was critical to limiting the spread of the disease. Working closely with our veterinarian, we used a variety of approved methods, including carbon dioxide gas. Again, our focus was on moving swiftly to prevent the disease from spreading to other flocks.
A challenge with disposal of mortality was that there were a number of options, including: burial, landfills, incineration and composting. But all had their barriers. Specific protocols varied from farm to farm and were based on a number of considerations. On our farms we used a combination of burial and composting for mortality disposal, always working collaboratively with the USDA and state and local authorities to ensure the process was properly and responsibly managed.
One of the partners with Center Fresh owned the adjacent farm, which we could use for composting. We did have days where we could remove more birds, but the birds had already died from the disease. There’s work being done to find better alternatives for mass euthanizing, it must be completed humanely and should be done within 24 hours of contracting the virus to stop the spread.
Did you ever find out how AI made its way onto your operations?
JD: I’m not sure anyone will know for sure. Two complexes broke on opposite ends of the complexes. One was not near a doorway, so we believe wind. The other one broke possibly by a door, so a worker could have tracked it in.
During the crisis, did you receive help from any outside organizations? If yes, who and how?
JD: Our community, Sioux Center, IA, had prayer services for our staff and companies, and the federal government provided for removal, disposal and disinfecting. It was the government and private industry working together.
Looking back now, is there anything you would have done differently?
JD: The governments, both state and federal, must do a better job of stamp out and eradication. At the time the state governments wanted to protect the identity of the infected operation as opposed to protecting the non-infected.
Are there any lessons you’d like to share with Canadian poultry farmers?
JD: If and when the virus hits, get the message out as quickly as possible through private industry and trade association. It’s imperative to act quickly – within 24 hours – to euthanize the birds to stop the spread of the virus. Centrum Valley proved that the virus could and can be stopped quickly. All producers are concerned about the well-being of their birds; it is much more humane to euthanize the birds quickly than to watch them die from the disease.
About Jim Dean
Jim Dean is the founding/managing partner and CEO of Center Fresh Group, which includes Center Fresh Egg Farm (3.8 million layers), Fremont Farms, L.C. (900,000 layers), Hawkeye Pride Egg Farm (4.6 million layers), Sioux County Egg Farm (1.7 million
layers), Centrum Valley Farms (7.5 million layers), Trillium Farm Holdings
(12.5 million layers), Center Fresh Africa, and Sioux Center Pullets (6 million annual pullet capacity). Jim was the founding partner/ CEO of Fremont Farms of Iowa.
Dean is the past Chairman of the Board of Directors of United Egg Producers (UEP), serving as Chairman until October 2015. UEP is a trade cooperative with membership that represents over 95 per cent of the egg industry in the United States. Today, Dean continues to serve on UEP’s finance committees.
Dean is also a past board member of the Iowa Poultry Association, the U.S. Egg Marketers, and the Midwest United Egg Producers. In 2014, he was honored as United Egg Producer’s egg industries Producer of the Year. In 2009, he was inducted in the Iowa Poultry Association Hall of Fame.
Avian influenza (AI) is without a doubt one of the biggest concerns for the global poultry industry. New outbreaks occur in most regions of the world every year, and according to Arjan Stegeman of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, it’s a problem that is only going to get worse. Stegeman was a keynote speaker at the International Egg Commission’s Global Leadership Conference in Berlin last September. His talk, Understanding AI, opened what would be an interesting week.
The unpredictability of AI
Commonly called the bird flu, AI is an infectious viral disease that occurs in birds, particularly in wild waterfowl, such as geese and ducks. AI viruses can be sub-divided into two groups, high pathogenic and low pathogenic AI. This division is based on their ability to cause disease in poultry. Low pathogenic viruses can cause mild symptoms, like gut trouble, whereas high pathogenic viruses result in high mortality rates, sometimes up to 100 per cent in just 48 hours.
Avian influenza ranges from H1–H17 types; only H5 and H7 are highly pathogenic, though. While highly pathogenic viruses are always categorized as either H5 or H7, not all H5 or H7 viruses are highly pathogenic. H5 and H7 viruses are actually quite similar, Stegeman said. In fact, it’s only a very small part of the gene encoding that is different.
High pathogenic viruses, however, can arise from low pathogenic types. “Sometimes we know that this happens quite quickly, so on the same farm where the virus was introduced,” said Stegeman. “And other times it can take more than half a year, like we’ve seen in Italy. That is something that we would like to understand better.”
Another peculiar feature of this virus is that it can easily exchange genetic material. “If a duck gets infected by the H5N1 virus, and at the same time an N8 virus, a new virus can arise from that,” Stegeman explained. That virus would be referred to as H5N8.
“This happened, for example, with the H5N2 virus that has arisen in the United States,” Stegeman continued. “So this virus has all kinds of tricky features that can make it survive in the population and change its nature in a way that is very difficult to catch.”
While high pathogenic viruses wreak the most havoc, they’re the quickest to be diagnosed by the farmer. Transmission, said Stegeman, is pretty much the same as it is with the low pathogenic viruses. The concentration of the virus is much higher in high pathogenic types though.
In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been a number of interesting occurrences in highly pathogenic AI. For one, the scientific literature before 2003 showed that epidemics of new sub-types (H5N1 or H7N7) always arose from the introduction of a new low-path virus, which then mutated to a high path virus. This still happens today, only now, wild birds have entered the equation. The hypothesis, Stegeman explained, is that the H5N1 epidemic was not effectively controlled in some countries, and spillover of the virus to wild birds occurred. In fact, experts agree that H5N1 was the first high pathogenic AI to be widely spread through the movement of wild birds. Today, it is possible for several wild bird species to be high pathogenic H5 infected without showing any signs at all.
Global spread of H5N8 explained
The global spread of the H5N8 virus began in China and South Korea. Later, it spread to Europe. As of November 2014, the virus had spread further to Canada and the United States. Interestingly, though, the pattern of spread does not match the migratory routes of wild birds, Stegeman said.
The virus, he explained, spread first from China and South Korea to Siberia. There, birds from Western Europe and Asia mixed and the resulting viruses were brought to Europe in the spring. A similar thing happened in North America.
There are tools available to evaluate the genetic differences between viruses, and results have shown that many only differ by one genetic position. “For the rest, this is not what we see,” said Stegeman. “What we see is something that is really very scattered with really huge differences between these viruses. What this means is that we’re dealing with separate introductions, and not between-farm transmission. The most likely cause of that is the wild bird population.”
Differences between the U.S. and Europe
In April of 2015, what has since been described as the worst animal disease outbreak in the history of the U.S. began. On April 12, the first birds tested positive for high pathogenic AI on a 200,000-bird cage-free operation in Wisconsin. On April 20, a five million bird operation in Iowa was hit.
“From April 20 until the middle of June, it was absolutely crazy,” Chad Gregory of United Egg Producers in the U.S., told the crowd in Berlin. “Every single day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day it was quite the experience – Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.”
Ultimately, the outbreak ended up wiping out some 35 million egg-laying hens, and another five to six million pullets.
“Those 35 million egg-laying hens represented about 12 per cent of the entire U.S. flock,” Gregory said. “And unfortunately 30 million of the 35 million we lost were dedicated to the egg product market.”
The U.S. turkey industry lost almost eight million turkeys, primarily in the Iowa and Minnesota areas. In total, 223 premises tested positive.
“We didn’t know what to do in the beginning,” Gregory said. “We felt like there was just so much chaos going on in those first couple of days.”
But what made the U.S. situation so much different than the European cases? Dr. Klaus-Peter Behr of AniCon in Germany explained.
The H5N8 virus that hit both Europe and North America originated in Southeast Asia. This virus found its way with migrating birds via Russia to Europe and via Alaska and Canada to several U.S. states. “On its way to the U.S. it mingled up with an H9N2 virus and became the H5N2 virus hitting the U.S. poultry industry,” Behr said.
The U.S. virus experienced a severe delay or incubation period, whereas the original H5N8 needed only two days from infection before severe mortality began. In the U.S., mortality didn’t begin for eight to 10 days.
“This difference gave the U.S. virus a whole additional week to intensively multiply and spread without being obviously present, as shown by increased mortality,” Behr said.
In Europe, poultry producers had a tremendous advantage, since the virus became obvious very quickly after introduction on the farm. “This was the crucial difference that made it possible to stop spreading of the virus one week earlier than in the U.S. cases,” Behr concluded.
AI isn't going anywhere
Most experts agree; AI isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say, though, that producers are helpless. “I think, as many of you realize, we may have to live with bird flu for quite a while,” Stegeman said at the end of his presentation. “That does not mean that we cannot do anything because introductions for known pathogenic virus will remain. But it does leave us wondering what will happen with future outbreaks with the highly pathogenic virus, especially given that all the migratory birds are now coming back.”
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PIC Human Resources DayThu May 25, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Turkey Academy 2017Thu Jun 01, 2017 @ 8:30AM - 02:30PM
Canadian Meat Council 97th Annual ConferenceMon Jun 05, 2017
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