Maine officials prepare for possible avian flu outbreak

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For Immediate Release

August 6, 2015

Contact:  Michele Walsh, D.V.M., State Veterinarian, (207) 215-6727

Maine officials prepare for possible avian flu outbreak 

HPAI does not affect human health, but has decimated domestic poultry in other states leading to shortages and price increases  

AUGUSTA – Officials in the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) are preparing for a possible avian flu outbreak and taking steps to alert the public on how to help prevent or minimize its impact on domestic poultry. The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus is of low risk to people, and there have been no reported human infections resulting from the current outbreak of HPAI in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, it has decimated commercial chicken and turkey flocks in other states, causing supply disruptions and higher prices for consumers.

“This disease has not been detected in Maine or anywhere on the eastern migratory bird flyway yet, but Maine is being proactive about taking precautions to control its spread,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “State veterinary staff have alerted veterinarians and poultry growers across Maine, asking them to keep a close eye on their flocks during the fall migration of wild waterfowl, the next significant threat of introduction of HPAI in Maine and the East.”

“Veterinarians, commercial producers and backyard poultry owners can help us in our efforts by reporting unhealthy birds,” said Commissioner Walt Whitcomb. All poultry owners should report unusual sudden bird deaths in a flock – especially three or more within a week - or birds that exhibit signs of unexplained sickness. It is important to note that the HPAI virus is of low risk to people, and there have been no reported human infections resulting from the current outbreak of HPAI in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

What Maine is doing to prevent and/or prepare for HPAI:

Dr. Michele Walsh, State Veterinarian, is leading the State response along with University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service veterinarians in closely monitoring the avian influenza viruses that have been detected in poultry flocks in Midwest and Western states to date, and offering disease prevention tips to poultry producers, including backyard chicken farmers.

The program is a joint effort between the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry and University of Maine Extension program with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to monitor for infectious diseases in Maine poultry, including avian influenza viruses. These surveillance efforts also include outreach to Maine’s veterinarians and poultry industry to encourage a quick and sound response to outbreaks that pose a threat to the industry or public health. In addition to routinely testing many commercial and backyard birds every year, the program randomly tests birds at events such as county fairs, bird shows and swaps.

Maine has been conducting avian influenza surveillance in these bird populations for at least a decade, and all birds have tested negative for the disease. In fact, other states on the Atlantic coast have also increased numbers of poultry tested for avian flu – all of those tests have had negative results as well, despite some rumors to the contrary. The discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the Pacific Northwest in December 2014 and the subsequent spread of the disease to many commercial turkey and layer hen facilities in the Midwest has all animal health officials in North America on high alert, however, and in preparation mode for response for possible infection during the wild bird migration this fall.

More than 49 million chickens and turkeys have been euthanized in the U.S. to control the spread of avian flu. Avian influenza viruses are carried globally in wild migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. They can be transmitted to domestic birds and then between domestic flocks, carried on shared equipment or clothing worn by people moving from one flock to another, for instance.

Tips on Keeping Poultry Safe from Avian Flu:

The message from Maine’s animal health officials to all poultry owners in the state emphasizes prevention, with a focus on biosecurity measures that can be implemented for every flock. These “Biosecurity Basics” are available on the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services website:

They include:

Whether people are commercial producers or backyard poultry owner or something in between, it is important to remember to prevent contact between your birds and wild birds, particularly wild waterfowl.

People can help get the word out by reporting unusual sudden bird deaths or birds that exhibit signs of sickness. Those who have sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes can contact the Maine State Veterinarian at (207) 287-7615 or the USDA at (866) 536-7593. Dead birds may be submitted to the UMAHL at the University of Maine’s Orono campus for free HPAI testing; the lab can be reached at 207-581-2788; call the lab for important details prior to submittal.