Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in a commercial turkey flock in Muskegon County, Michigan, according to state officials. The virus was confirmed at the facility on December 19th after testing prompted by an increase in mortality rates.
Response Efforts Underway
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has quarantined the affected flock and established a 10 kilometer surveillance zone around the area. All commercial and backyard poultry flocks within that radius will be tested regularly over the next few months.
Over 175,000 birds at the Muskegon County facility will be depopulated to prevent further spread. The grapes will then be composted on site in accordance with guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Strict biosecurity measures are being implemented, including restricted access to the property, dedicated boots and protective equipment, and disinfection protocols.
State Veterinarian Dr. Nora Wineland urged poultry owners to review and strengthen their biosecurity practices to protect their flocks. She advised preventing contact between wild birds and domestic poultry by bringing animals indoors or under netting when possible.
Ongoing Avian Influenza Challenges
HPAI has impacted poultry producers across the country since early 2022 when a Eurasian strain of the virus was first detected among a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. Over 58 million birds have been affected across 47 states to date, making it the most widespread outbreak in United States history.
The virus continues to circulate among wild migratory waterfowl, which can then spread it to backyard and commercial flocks through direct contact. Cooler fall temperatures prompted the birds’ seasonal migration south, causing experts to brace for a resurgence after a summer lull in cases.
|Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese
|Direct contact with bodily fluids, equipment, clothing, egg crates, vehicles from infected farms
|Increased mortality, respiratory distress
|2 to 14 days
|Up to 100% in poultry
|Up to 100% in poultry
While the illness cannot be transmitted through properly prepared poultry meat or eggs, it remains critical to halt the spread. Depopulation efforts have created meat and egg supply issues with high prices for consumers. The virus has also had devastating economic impacts on individual farmers who lose entire flocks.
Focus on Biosecurity
Enhanced biosecurity remains the best defense against avian influenza. The MDARD advises poultry owners to limit visitors, wash hands thoroughly before and after contact, and change clothing/shoes when moving between enclosures. Equipment like coops and egg crates should be thoroughly disinfected.
Isolating any birds returning from shows for 30 days allows time for any illness to manifest before exposing the home flock. Carefully monitoring populations for increased mortality and signs of disease can help facilitate early detection and intervention as well.
State officials continue working closely with industry organizations like the Michigan Allied Poultry Industries to provide guidance and support for both commercial operators and small backyard hobbyists during this difficult time.
What Happens Next?
Experts anticipate high HPAI activity to persist through the fall and winter. The spring 2023 migration may allow the virus to again subside if it follows previous seasonal patterns. However, the strain could end up endemic in North American wild birds much like Europe and Asia.
Ongoing research focuses on developing a stronger poultry vaccine to limit spread at commercial facilities. Unfortunately wildlife vaccination remains extremely challenging, underscoring the need for sustained biosecurity efforts. Backyard flock owners should prepare for continued risk into the foreseeable future.
Poultry producers across Michigan are on high alert for more potential detections within commercial and backyard populations over the coming cold weather months. State officials urge prompt reporting of any unusual morbidity and mortality events to allow rapid response and protect other flocks. While the latest event in Muskegon county is discouraging, collaborative vigilance and science-driven control measures offer the best hopes of limiting spread.
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