Insiders call it High Path AI. Yet, if it is high path, why hasn’t avian flu yet reached Pennsylvania? That was the question I put to PA Ag Secretary Russell Redding prior to his chairing of a town hall style seminar titled Preparation for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza [HPAI] at the Lancaster Farm & Home Center. “It is H5N2,” Redding said. “What we know at this point is that it does not like hot weather. When you look at the Midwest and here in the east we have been in this hot pattern since the end of June. Also, the transport of this has been through migratory fowl. It was a down season for migratory fowl. We are on the up side now. We believe the combination of the weather and being out of the flight pattern for the moment is the reason it is not here.” Redding says that is going to change in a few weeks when migratory fowl start coming back and temperatures drop, “This will be a high risk season.”
“What we are sensing now is that there has to be a moment when there are individual producers developing a work plan for their operations. Our further sense is that these are not as complete as they need to be.” Redding said. “We wanted to bring everyone together, particularly the producers, to ensure that everyone understands we all have roles to play if HPAI enters Pennsylvania,” Redding explained they have been at work since February developing plans to safeguard the state, “but those plans mean nothing if producers aren’t taking the proper steps to protect themselves. The threat of this virus is very real, and the consequences of it infecting a flock could be devastating, so it’s important to have a plan and maintain good biosecurity measures on the farm.”
The HPAI virus, detected in 21 states so far, has spread primarily through migratory birds from the Pacific to the Central flyway to the Mississippi flyway. While there has not yet been a case of HPAI found in Pennsylvania, concern abounds that infected birds migrating south this fall could enter the Atlantic flyway, which intersects with the Mississippi flyway and overlies Pennsylvania. Among those 21 states, the virus was detected in Macomb County, Michigan – 150 miles across from Lake Erie’s Pennsylvania shore. Roughly, the virus nationwide has killed 50 million birds. With this scenario in place, AI is likelier to arrive in Pennsylvania than not.
“The effect, the cost and the severity of this have been extreme,” said PA State Veterinarian Craig Shultz. “This is a foreign animal disease, and must be dealt with under the Animal Health Protection Act with specific requirements that have to be met. We are working with our federal partners and you, the industry, very closely to make sure that these standards are established. We’ve got good experience with eradicating foreign animal disease from the landscape in the United States in years past. Using those principles, those standards, we hope to be able to identify a most effective and efficient way to proceed with this disease control effort.”
It is an expensive disease. The federal government has spent $700 million out of the Commodity Credit Corporation already. And already $190 million has been devoted just to the cost of indemnity for lost birds, which so far totals 48 million birds. Under current conditions, what is anticipated for the rest of the country, “Our federal partners have suggested another 500 flocks nationwide,” says Shultz. “That is twice as many as the devastation we’ve already dealt with in the upper Midwest.” Shultz says that the goal is to get the infected birds euthanized within 24 hours. Shultz also referenced great cooperation and experience on the part of the federal government as to the difficulty of dispatching large numbers of birds in a short time frame. Once the situation is under control, it has to be monitored to make sure it stays under control.
Besides discussing steps the state is taking to protect its $13 billion poultry industry, officials also stressed the bottom line, which is the importance of having both a producer plan and a flock plan in place. “Producers need to anticipate what steps they will need to take should an HPAI infection be confirmed in their flock,” Redding urged. “In addition to biosecurity standard operating procedures, every farm needs an HPAI flock plan.” Flock plans address specifics of depopulation, disposal and cleaning and disinfection methods. Since variables including weather and other environmental conditions at the time infection is confirmed may affect the plan, alternative procedures should be considered.
PDA has developed a work plan to assist producers with completing the USDA flock plan. Items such as the producer’s preferred methods of depopulation and a listing of available resources will be collected in the work plan. The flock plan will then act as an agreement between the state, USDA and the flock owner at the time an HPAI confirmation occurs. Having these plans in place ahead of time is a benefit to all parties involved in the response and recovery phase in the event of an outbreak, Redding added. The work plan will need to be completed and submitted to the department upon completion. There is no pre-approval process for the flock plan.