GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It is flu season for birds and the current strain of High Path Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu, caused the euthanization of 32,100 turkeys in Johnston County.
WITN first spoke with North Carolina’s state veterinarian in February about the outbreak in wild waterfowl. Now that the disease spread into commercial and backyard flocks, we checked back in.
“If we can just at least get to the other side of the season then hopefully, we’ll be in a better place,” said state veterinarian Dr. Michael Martin.
Martin says the good news is, the illness is not a threat to people or food safety. He said, “We had been lucky so far. We knew that this virus was in our wild waterfowl. We have been on heightened alert in North Carolina since the middle of January.”
The state is now testing flocks within 6.2 miles of the infected farm, but backyard flock owners should be taking precautions as well.
“Birds having contact or association with wild waterfowl is always considered a high risk factor. Beyond that, there’s maybe more things that you can kind of speculate on or guess on,” said Martin. “One of the things that concerns me personally is are there other wild bird species that are carrying this disease?”
Dr. Martin is talking about songbirds. They were previously written off to be safe from the flu, but now researchers aren’t so sure.
The best practice, he says, is to strictly follow biosecurity measures even in your own backyard.
“To the backyard, independent flock owners, if you can keep your birds enclosed in a coop or at least pent up in and it’s not going to create a welfare problem with those birds, we still highly encourage you to do that,” advised Martin. “We know this virus existed in our wild bird populations and so if you can protect them without creating a welfare problem, you definitely should do that. And then again, that biosecurity: clean clothes, clean shoes, clean hands, is really going to be critical.”
Treat the flu like wet paint, he explains, If you’ve come in contact with other birds, don’t touch anything until you’ve washed up.
The Johnston County farm now joins 48 other commercial farms in 12 states where the virus has been found. Also, 32 backyard flocks in 13 states have tested positive, all this year.
Although the low risk to people can ease some minds, the high mortality and transmissibility of this virus should always be treated with caution.
Some of the early warning signs of the flu in flocks include reduced energy, irregular egg production, and swelling or purple discoloration.