Between December 2014 and June 2015, an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) occurred in the Pacific Northwest and the Mid-western states, infecting a total of 211 commercial and 21 backyard poultry premises and resulting in the destruction of 49.6 million birds. To date, efforts to eradicate the outbreak have cost federal taxpayers over $950 million. Although no new cases have occurred since mid-June 2015, experts believe the disease could recur in the fall or winter of 2015 as waterfowl – the natural reservoir of the HPAI virus – migrate south. The state of Georgia could be affected if waterfowl in the Atlantic flyway become contaminated.
Role of the Laboratory:
The key to rapidly stamping out the virus and limiting its economic impact is quick detection. In coordination with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network (GPLN), the UGA Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories in Athens and Tifton have developed an emergency testing plan. Based on experiences from other states, the resources of the two UGA laboratories will be needed to supplement those of the GPLN Lab in Gainesville in the event of an HPAI outbreak.
Role of poultry owners and veterinarian:
It is important that the first case(s) of HPAI be detected as soon as it occurs in our state. The index case is more likely to occur in backyard flocks than in commercial flocks. Poultry owners and veterinarians who see backyard flocks need to be alert for possible signs of the disease, which are variable and include: reduced activity, lack of coordination, respiratory signs (nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing), swelling and purple discoloration of the combs or wattles, hemorrhages on the unfeathered parts of legs and feet, and diarrhea, and rapid death. We recommend that birds that die after showing any combination of the above clinical signs should be tested for avian influenza.
What to submit for testing:
The GPLN has distributed sampling kits to commercial poultry owners, with instructions on how to collect and submit samples from sick and dead birds for HPAI testing. If you are a backyard flock owner and your chickens show any signs suggestive of avian influenza, call the GPLN Avian Influenza Hotline (770-766-6850) for help in collecting and submitting samples for testing. If you are a veterinarian seeing a bird or flock that exhibits signs consistent with avian influenza, either submit freshly dead birds (if any) or a tracheal/oropharyngeal swab in 3 ml of BHI broth (sampling kits are available from the GPLN). Note that dry swabs or swabs placed in other types of media are not acceptable. When in doubt, call the Avian Influenza Hotline (770-766-6850) for help. While the UGA Athens and Tifton laboratories conduct avian influenza testing, the GPLN hotline is your best source of information on proper collection and submission of samples for HPAI testing.