COLUMBIA — South Carolina State Veterinarian Dr. Boyd Parr is urging all sectors of the South Carolina poultry industry to intensify biosecurity efforts at their operations after Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was confirmed Saturday in a commercial flock in Lincoln County, Tennessee.
The Tennessee case is the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry in the United States in 2017, and was confirmed by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service (APHIS).
South Carolina has had no known cases of the disease, but Parr is advising the state’s poultry producers to stay vigilant. As South Carolina State Veterinarian, Parr is director of Clemson University Livestock Poultry Health (LPH).
While this strain of the disease is not considered a threat to public health or the food supply, the disease could be devastating to poultry farms.
“The financial stakes to South Carolina are very high. We have both large commercial poultry operations, and small, backyard poultry flocks all over the state, including cities, towns and suburbs,” Parr said. “This is literally an issue that affects the entire state. If HPAI does arrive, the potential impact is severe, so we stress immediate reporting of any unexplained poultry mortality.”
Owners should watch their birds closely and report unexplained illness or death to Clemson University LPH at 803-788-2260, or by visiting clemson.edu/public/reportHPAI.
The South Carolina poultry industry annually brings in more than $12 billion, representing more than a quarter of the total economic impact of the state’s agribusinesses. There are more than 800 commercial poultry farms with more than 3,350 active poultry houses in South Carolina.
“Prevention is the immediate goal,” Parr said. “Clemson University LPH spreads the word about good biosecurity measures throughout the year, but with HPAI now in the Southeast, it is all the more important.”
Parr warns poultry owners to distance their flocks from any contact with wild waterfowl and the ponds that attract them. Hunters should take precautions to keep from tracking the virus back to a domestic flock of chickens or turkeys.
“If you have poultry and decide to hunt, never go straight from the hunt to the birds,” Parr said. “Ideally, you should wait three days after hunting to return to your birds. After visiting another poultry farm, bird show or live bird market, you should shower and change clothing and footwear before working with your birds. Visitors should wear protective clothing and footwear as well.”
Parr advises caution when bringing new birds, and possibly a new disease, into flocks. He recommends separating new birds from the home flock for four weeks to see if they show any signs of disease, and buying new birds only from reputable breeders.
Symptoms of HPAI in poultry include coughing, swollen face, mucus discharge from nose and eyes, depression, marked loss of appetite, drop in egg production and sudden death in multiple birds in a very short amount of time.
“Poultry producers also should keep pests, such as rodents, raccoons and opossums, away from bird houses and pens,” he said. “These pests share the same habitats as wild waterfowl and also can spread the disease. Don’t let domestic birds free range with wild waterfowl. And certainly don’t entice the waterfowl to come into your yard by feeding them.”
“It’s important for owners to know what healthy birds look like and monitor birds for signs and symptoms of disease,” Parr said. “Keep their water and feeders clean, along with equipment that may come in contact with them. The virus can hitchhike on such things as tires, equipment and supplies.”
Clemson University LPH is the lead agency responsible for managing HPAI should it be discovered in South Carolina. Working with USDA and state health, emergency, agriculture and wildlife departments, LPH has developed plans for the prevention, detection and, if necessary, response to the disease.
If HPAI is detected in South Carolina, the public is urged to visit www.clemson.edu/public/lph/avianinfluenza. LPH will then conduct immediate testing to confirm the disease and to depopulate and safely dispose of infected flocks if necessary.