As wild birds begin their migration to the south for the winter, animal health officials are monitoring for the possibility of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).
There have been no reported cases in the Ozarks, but in late 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed several cases of HPAI in the migratory bird paths known as the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways.
The disease has been found in wild birds, as well as in a few backyard and commercial poultry flocks.
HPAI is a serious poultry disease and is highly contagious among birds.
“There are multiple levels of protection that make it highly unlikely HPAI-infected poultry would ever enter the food chain and proper cooking kills the virus; which means our food supply is very safe,” Oklahoma Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Herrin stated in a recent press release from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. “We are starting to see the migration of the waterfowl south into Oklahoma.”
Wild migratory waterfowl such as ducks and geese are the natural hosts.
“They rarely become ill from the virus, but can spread it mostly through their feces,” Oklahoma State Veterinarian Dr. Rod Hall explained. “The virus is transmitted via the fecal, oral route. Wild waterfowl pass the virus in their feces, then domestic poultry consume feed or water that has been contaminated by the contaminated feces.”
Avian influenza can include high death loss.
“Poultry is a big industry in Oklahoma,” Hall said, “and if we don’t do a good job of controlling this, then it definitely can impact the industry’s ability to export and sell those birds.
“If we have a lot of infected farms, because either we don’t react quickly enough or the people that have the birds don’t use proper biosecurity and spread it, then we not only have a lot more dead birds but it has a more severe impact on the poultry industry and the general economy of Oklahoma. I’ve seen a few figures, but in Iowa and Minnesota there has been a big impact not just on the poultry industry but the general economy.”
Planning has come in many different forms on several different levels and crosses state lines.
“As far as groups we’ve worked with, it probably starts with our tri-state group,” Herrin said. “We meet regularly with Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. That’s state regulatory people, federal regulatory people, industry and extension. All of those folks meet on a regular basis and this has been a hot topic obviously this year more than most.
So what are some of the biosecurity steps that can be taken by those with backyard poultry?
Hall said it is important to prevent direct contact between waterfowl and domestic poultry.
“Don’t let domestic poultry drink water from ponds, lakes or other water that has had wild waterfowl on or in it,” Hall said. “Consider penning domestic poultry when waterfowl are in the area.”
Hall mentioned that clothing or footwear that has come in contact with waterfowl can spread the virus.
It is good to “have dedicated clothing for handling poultry particularly if waterfowl are in the vicinity because a person can’t be too careful,” he added.
Herrin also said there have been no confirmed cases of HPAI in humans in the U.S.


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