Avian Influenza: Q&A Session with a Leading Expert

cvm_asset_442453There is no doubt that Avian Influenza (AI) has been a devastation to the poultry industry, just as PEDv was to the swine industry eighteen months ago.  The mortality rate for AI stands at 100%, and as of May 26th, 2015, 41,034,973 birds have died or been euthanized as a result.  Avian Influenza is a topic that has been extremely hot in the media the last several months – but we wanted to hear straight from a world renowned researcher on the topic, and ask some questions that are going through all livestock producers’ minds.  Dr. Carol Cardona from the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Ben Pomeroy Chair in Avian Health, recently joined Pipestone on a webinar with an update on the Avian Influenza (AI) epidemic.

How did Avian Influenza get to the U.S. and how did is spread so quickly?

The virus was thought to have entered the United States, bouncing around in Asia from Japan, to China, to Taiwan, making its way up to Germany, the Netherlands, Alaska, California and now the Midwest.  So how did Avian Influenza spread so quickly across the Midwest?  First, there were widespread introductions of the virus from wild birds across a very large region.  On April 11th, there were 22 control zones each a 10 km (6.21 miles) circle mandated by international law to prevent the spread of the virus from infected farms.  Within those zones, every movement had to be permitted – if you were a feed truck, you had to have a permit to move.  Also, every flock within those zones had to be visited, which led to a lot of paperwork and man hours.  The control workforce was spread way to thin at that time, and depopulation of the infected farms backed up.  When that happened – chances of spread increased because the flocks still needed to be cared for, which in turn increased traffic between infected and non-infected farms.

What is one of the largest challenges you face with this disease today?

One of the greatest challenges faced today is that our agricultural system has evolved beyond contingency plans.  How so?  Disposal of the euthanized birds is a huge problem.  The infection of a single modern egg production farm, for example, with 5 million layers has 7,000 tons of carcass which would take every bit of carbon source in the Midwest to compost.  That leaves few other disposal options available for farms that break later as the outbreak continues.  Additionally, every new state infected brings a new learning curve of figuring out where resources are and how to manage each case.  Every state is prepared until there is a challenge.

We have Influenza everywhere, what’s the big deal with Avian Influenza?

Avian Influenza is a virus that the poultry industry can truly not live with and be economically sustainable.  This would be akin to having FMD in your swine populations.  Being a foreign animal disease, euthanizing all infected populations, so that it doesn’t affect the food chain and cannot move to other farms is the only method for control.  Mortality is at 100% in infected barns – that in itself is devastating.

Pigs are susceptible to influenza virus.  What’s the risk of this influenza strain infecting pigs?

The truth is we don’t know.  However, we do know this virus kills poultry, and that doesn’t necessarily translate to other species.  That being said, this virus is derived from the 1960’s H5N1 from China.  Previous iterations of this virus had been inoculated into the pigs but were subclinical.  But for this virus, there have been no pigs affected in Asia or the U.S. to date.

Whether its chickens, cows, or pigs – any animal caretaker hates to see their animals suffer.  As with any infectious animal disease, we hope that a treatment or strong prevention tactics can be proven and implemented into farms soon.  Should you have any further questions on this topic, feel free to contact Dr. Carol Cardona at ccardona@umn.edu.