New variant of the bird flu may cause problems for farmers

New variant of the bird flu may cause problems for farmers
Published: Feb. 9, 2022 at 8:30 PM EST
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PITT COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has identified 65 positive cases of Avian influenza in wild waterfowl at three sites in Eastern Carolina.

Birds infected with Eurasian H5 HPAI have been found in Hyde and Bladen counties and along the Beaufort and Pamlico counties line for the first time since 2016.

Backyard and commercial poultry owners are all encouraged by the state to implement biosecurity measures during the outbreak as wild birds migrate through the state.

“Think of it as wet paint,” state veterinarian Dr. Michael Martin said. “Everywhere you go and touch after that until you clean up is something that could get contaminated.”

Poultry farming is the number one agricultural industry in the state, leading farmers to be concerned about the disease.

According to Phillip Suggs of S&S Farms’ poultry division, if the disease came to the farm, “it would be very detrimental.”

Owner Steve Sutton and Suggs represent two generations of a farm family with 50 to 60 percent of crops being poultry.

“People would lose their jobs,” Sutton said.

The first case of the strain was detected in mid-January in wild birds migrating south and staying for the winter in the Carolinas.

“Once we got that first positive, we then really knew that this was in our flyway,” Martin said.

Now, the mission of the agriculture department is to keep the infection out of domestic and commercial fowl.

Farmers practice biosecurity by keeping their flocks away from other people and animals to avoid the spread of infection.

“[Poultry] is a go-to crop. It offers stability,” Sutton said. “So it is important that farmers maintain their biosecurity and live with it every day, to make sure these chickens get to market.”

The Eurasian H5 HPAI virus is considered low risk to people, according to the CDC.

It’s also a low risk to common songbirds, so birdfeeders can be left out in the backyard for now.

The 65 positive cases in wild waterfowl triggered the North Carolina Zoo to close its aviary to the public to reduce threats of transmission.

There is no current reopening date set, but none of the zoo’s birds have tested positive for the flu.

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