WADESBORO — As neighboring states face cases of avian flu, the state government is preparing for the problem to make its way to North Carolina poultry.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services updated its website to note that highly pathogenic avian influenza was confirmed in Tennessee in early March, and urged every poultry farm in the state to take precautions.
“All N.C. poultry farms should be following STRICT biosecurity protocols,” the agency warns.
There are two types of avian flu: low pathogenic avian influenza and highly pathogenic avian influenza. The cases in Tennessee were highly pathogenic, and cases confirmed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture on Monday were low pathogenic.
“Similar to influenza symptoms in people, birds infected with LPAI usually experience only mild signs, if any, including respiratory signs such as conjunctivitis and nasal discharge, ruffled feathers or a drop in egg production,” the website said. “Unlike LPAI, the first indication of HPAI in poultry is sudden death, often without signs of illness.”
Richard Goforth, specialized agent for poultry for 32 counties in the state with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, said that both commercial farms and those with smaller flocks should watch for symptoms. He urged farmers to be diligent in taking preventative measures.
“They should be doing the things they should be doing on a daily, usually routine, basis,” Goforth said. “Usually they’ll have bleach, and dedicated boots to wear in the houses, boot covers, coveralls they can wear on the farm. But if they’re going to a meeting with other poultry growers, they should change clothes and shower. Ideally, they would change clothes before they go someplace with other poultry growers, then go home and shower and change.”
Often, the virus is transmitted by wild birds.
“Make sure barns are sealed properly, that there aren’t any gaps or holes where wild birds can get into and nest,” Goforth said.
Those with poultry should be extra cautions near places with geese.
“If a farmer has a pond and a flock of geese comes to stay and leaves droppings around, a person steps into it and walks in a (poultry) house — most of the time, something like that is how a virus gets into a farm,” he said.
Goforth said the current situation is less serious that it was two years ago when a strain of the avian flu swept through the region, as the cases in Georgia are the low-pathogenic strain. On Monday, the Georgia Department of Agriculture posted a notice on its website said the case confirming the cases in a commercial flock in Chattooga County.
“We’re very concerned… right now, we don’t have any reported cases here, so there’s no immediate threat in North Carolina,” Goforth said. “Those cases (in neighboring states) so far were handled quickly and have been pretty isolated, so it’s not a big spread.”
While this strain is less worrisome than that from 2015, Goforth advised farmers to be cautious.
“The closer it gets to us, the more concerning it is, of course,” he said. “We definitely want growers to be alert and follow security practices, keep up with things they’re supposed to be doing.”
Farmers should watch their birds for signs.
“The big thing is a rapid increase in mortality,” Goforth said. “Usually, you’ll see one or two dead birds one day, and the next day, the mortality spikes.”
With the highly pathogenic strain confirmed in Tennessee on March 5, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture advises poultry growers to keep their poultry away from wild birds, for those with birds of their own to avoid visits to places with birds, to remember that their vehicles can transport the germs, to check their birds regularly for early symptoms and to call state health officials about sick or dead poultry without delay.
In addition to a high mortality rate, poultry owners should watch for a lowered egg production, diarrhea, swelling of the head and face, weak and stumbling chickens, irregular eggs, purple discoloration and a lack of appetite, according to the state agriculture website.
There are at least 350-400 poultry farms in Anson and Richmond counties combined, Goforth said.
Poultry growers with concerns about sick or dead birds are asked to contact the Office of the State Veterinarian as soon as the problem is detected at 919-707-3250.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.