Preventing avian flu
Radio interview source: Phil Clauer, Extension Poultry Specialist, Penn State University
We've always had our poultry vaccinated against common diseases, but you can't protect them from every sickness. There are many different sub-types of avian influenza, for example. Some are serious, some are not. It's caused by a virus that's carried in healthy waterfowl, but can be transmitted to turkeys and chickens. Problems arise when the viruses mutate into something stronger and nastier.
Phil Clauer is an extension poultry specialist at Penn State University. The virus H5N1 is the highly pathogenic flu bug crossing over to humans in other countries. So far it hasn't been found in the United States. Poultry producers focused on prevention is the key to keeping it that way.
"Biosecurity and having some confinement of your birds and control of your birds is probably a good thing," Clauer says. "Not that they have to be in cages inside of a barn, but maybe inside a fenced area where you know what they're getting into."
When my daughter Caroline was raising chickens we told her if the avian flu ever came to Iowa we would have to destroy her flock. No sense taking a chance that she would get sick. I'm glad the chicken house is far from our pond, because migratory waterfowl often drop in for a visit.
"Anytime there's intermingling there's a chance for disease spread, so people need to be careful. If you've got them out in your ponds and so forth there probably isn't a major danger to humans at this point, but at the same time it could be deadly for other fowl on the premise," Clauer says. "So if you have chickens and you have geese running around out at the pond or out back and they do get this, they could spread it to the other fowl on your farm."
The virus is also transmitted by people and equipment. The disease can live in manure for up to 105 days, so it could easily be spread from one farm to another on soiled boots or clothing.
To avoid "tracking it in," buy a pair of inexpensive rubber boots, and wear them only on your own premises. If there are regular visitors, ask them to wear disinfected boots. Mix a solution of three parts bleach to two parts water, and use it to clean rubber boots and equipment brought onto your farm.
USDA's bird flu information center: Get all the latest news on avian influenza, and download fact sheets and other useful information.
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