As the state’s largest agri-business, the poultry industry generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue. While it has not been identified in any other state, officials in Indiana confirmed an avian influenza outbreak last month.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension Center said this week an outbreak of the disease in Alabama could create a downturn in production that would heavily impact the state’s economy. Alabama's poultry industry not only creates more than $15 billion in revenue, but it also employs more than 86,000 workers, according to the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.
This week, producers continue to monitor flocks using extensive biosecurity measures to protect against avian influenza.
Ken Macklin, a poultry scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said tests from the Indiana turkey flock showed a different strain of avian influenza from the 2015 avian influenza outbreak that impacted the U.S. poultry industry.
“The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed that the Indiana flock was infected with H7N8 highly pathogenic avian influenza,” said Macklin. “While this is a different strain of HPAI than the strain that caused the 2015 outbreak, it is deadly to domestic chickens and turkeys.”
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan said, “I want to assure all Alabamians that our department continues our surveillance for avian influenza and that our HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan is in place. Every flock of chickens in Alabama is tested for avian influenza before it is processed for human consumption.”
Macklin noted that despite the reappearance of avian influenza, poultry products remain safe to eat.
“Infected flocks do not enter the human food chain,” he said.
The new strain identified in Indiana is considered a high pathogen strain, meaning that the mortality rate is extremely high. Lower pathogen strains still lead to infected birds, but do not have the high mortality rates.
Macklin said that strong biosecurity measures that are followed rigorously are the Alabama poultry industry’s best line of defense from avian influenza.
“There are many steps in a good biosecurity plan,” said Macklin, who is also a professor of poultry science at Auburn University. “Practicing good sanitation and following appropriate biosecurity measures are our best safeguard against this as well as other infectious diseases.”
Appropriate biosecurity steps include:
n Isolating birds from other animals
n Wearing clothing designated only for use at the poultry house
n Minimizing access to people and unsanitized equipment
n Keeping the area around the poultry buildings clean and uninviting to wild animal and birds
n Sanitizing the facility between flocks
n Cleaning equipment entering and leaving the farm
n Having an all-in, all-out policy regarding the placement and removal of the poultry
n Properly disposing of bedding material and mortalities
n Avoiding contact with migratory waterfowl
Alabama State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier would lead the state’s response effort if the disease were detected in Alabama.
Frazier reminds all poultry owners and producers to strictly adhere to the biosecurity guidelines mentioned previously. He also recommends that they notify the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Poultry Division at 334-240-6584 if their birds show unusual signs of disease (flu-like symptoms) or their flock experiences unexplained mortalities.