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State Veterinarians encourage poultry producers and enthusiasts to prepare for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), expected to impact the East Coast fall of 2015 or spring of 2016.

Vermont State Veterinarian, Dr. Kristin Haas, is encouraging poultry owners, producers and enthusiasts to prepare for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), which is expected to impact the East Coast in the fall of this year or spring of 2016. Since December 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed the presence of HPAI on more than 200 properties, impacting almost 50 million commercial and backyard birds. While the HPAI outbreak has not yet been identified in Vermont, poultry producers should be familiar with the disease, how it is spread, and preparedness efforts that they can engage in now.

It is important to note that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from this HPAI infection to be low. No human cases of this HPAI virus have been detected in the United States or internationally. Influenza in poultry does not constitute a food safety risk.

The HPAI H5 virus is most commonly spread to domestic poultry by infected waterfowl, through direct contact or contact with their droppings.  While waterfowl can carry the disease without becoming sick, the HPAI H5 virus is generally fatal for domestic poultry.

“Domestic poultry are highly susceptible to HPAI H5 virus, which can spread rapidly from bird to bird and typically results in high mortality rates.” said Vermont State Veterinarian, Dr. Kristin Hass. “All poultry owners, whether they are backyard hobbyists or commercial producers, should evaluate their farms for risk factors that could contribute to avian influenza occurring on their farms.”

Risk factors include:

  • Poultry housed outside
  • Ponds or other water fowl attractants on the farm
  • Piles of debris located close to poultry areas
  • Introduction of poultry from other farms without a quarantine period
  • Lack of personal protective equipment such as dedicated coveralls and boots
  • Sharing of equipment between farms.

All poultry owners, regardless of size and business structure, should adhere to the following disease preventative measures:

  • Obtain a federal premises identification number by calling the State Veterinarian’s Office at (802) 828-2421. A unique farm identifier will aid regulatory officials in providing information to owners pre-outbreak and assisting owners with disease control and business continuity during a disease response.
  • Keep poultry away from wild birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds, and remove wild bird attractants from poultry housing areas.
  • If poultry are housed indoors, don’t let wild birds (or their fecal material) into barns.
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment prior to entry into a barn or poultry housing area.
  • Use barn-specific boots and coveralls, and consider using boot baths/washes.
  • Do not bring disease home with you -if you exhibit your poultry at fairs or swaps, do not share cages or equipment with other poultry owners.
  • Familiarize yourself with signs of illness in your birds and call the State Veterinarian’s Office if you see nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, lethargy, discolored wattles or combs, a drop in egg production, or sudden death.

Commercial poultry producers (egg producers, meat bird producers) should take additional proactive steps to increase the likelihood of continued business profitability in the event of a disease outbreak, such as:

  • Evaluating your farm’s carcass disposal options and contacting the Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation Waste Management and Prevention Division for a site evaluation and technical assistance: (802)828-1138.
  • Ensuring easy access to complete farm records that include live poultry and poultry product movement on and off the property and other non-poultry related routine farm traffic such as veterinary visits, feed deliveries, or service technicians.
  • Implement and consistently utilize a visitor’s log.
  • Evaluate and plan for product storage if in the event of an outbreak your farm is not able to move product.
  • Initiate conversations with your markets to determine if they will accept your product during an outbreak.
  • If you are an organic farm, review with your certifying organization the possibility of raising your birds indoors, should such measures become necessary.
  • Visit the Agency of Agriculture’s website at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/animal_health to view a list of questions that may be asked of your farm during an outbreak.

All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, are encouraged to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and to report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture at (802)828-2421 or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593.

Please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/animal_health for more information.

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About the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets: VAAFM facilitates, supports and encourages the growth and viability of agriculture in Vermont while protecting the working landscape, human health, animal health, plant health, consumers and the environment.  www.Agriculture.Vermont.Gov