ASHE COUNTY — Poultry farmers throughout North Carolina are currently bracing themselves for a potential outbreak of the avian influenza. According to officials, it’s not “if” the virus comes to the Southeast, but “when.”
In Ashe County, Micah Orfield, Ashe County Cooperative Extension Agent of Agriculture, is trying to educate as many as she can on preventative measures that can be taken to prevent an outbreak. According to Orfield, migratory birds will be making there way south carrying avian influenza and will pose a significant threat for our area if precautions are not taken.
Although the virus is not harmful to humans, egg prices spiked higher than ever earlier this year but officials say the biggest threat to the state’s poultry industry will come this fall when the migratory birds continue moving south. Several speculate that eggs could reach prices near $6 per dozen.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the avian influenza outbreak is responsible for the death of more than 48 million birds throughout the country. In Iowa, more than 30 million infected birds were euthanized while Minnesota, the nation’s leading turkey producer, lost nearly 9 million turkeys.
Birds can obtain the virus from the droppings of an infected bird and from waterways where birds such as geese usually gather. According to Orfield, once a bird contracts the disease they will die.
Orfield is encouraging poultry owners to register for an NCFarmID number on the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA) website regardless the number of birds owned. The required registration is free. According to Orfield, this will help the NCDA locate those with poultry if there is an outbreak.
“In planning our response for highly pathogenic avian influenza, one problem we’ve come across is that we can’t protect birds that we don’t know exist,” State Veterinarian Doug Meckes said. “We need to know where poultry are located so we can properly protect commercial and backyard flocks.”
Information gathered through NCFarmID registration is used solely for animal health purposes and will provide animal health officials with necessary contact information in case of an animal health concern and to help identify animals and premises that may have been affected.
The NCDA is also requiring commercial poultry owners with 200 or more birds to submit an avian influenza outbreak plan.
“It’s very important that growers think through the worst-case scenario, because a confirmation of high-path avian flu would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Meckes said. “We want each grower to consider their resources and location to determine how they can best handle an outbreak in a way that is environmentally sensitive and gets them back online as soon as is feasible.”
Last month, Meckes and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced that bird shows and sales would be halted from Aug. 15 to Jan. 15, 2016. The intent is to prevent birds from co-mingling and spreading the virus. Individual sales are still allowed to take place.
In order to further prevent an outbreak, Orfield recommends that free ranging birds such as chickens be kept up beginning in September until migration is over.
“Avian Influenza is a serious thing,” Orfield said. “It for sure is going to happen but we don’t want it to happen in North Carolina like it did in Iowa and Minnesota. They had some really hard loses up there.”
Signs of Avian Influenza include sneezing, difficulty breaking and sudden death within 24 hours of symptoms.
If an infected bird is found or suspected, contact the Rollins Diagnostic lab at 919-733-3986.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu or contact Orfield at 336-846-5850.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.