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OPELIKA, AL (AP)

Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialists have recommended that poultry owners keep a close eye on their flock after the first case of avian influenza was reported this year.

Poultry owners were prompted to keep caution after the first case of avian influenza in 2016 was reported at a turkey farm in Indiana in January, the Opelika-Auburn News reported. Specialists say local extension specialists along with people from the State Department of Agriculture frequently check for diseases such as bird flu.

Joseph Hess, extension specialist at ACES and a professor in the Poultry Science Department at Auburn University, avian influenza reported in Indiana is a different strain from the 2015 outbreak. He says poultry found to be highly pathogenic have a higher mortality rate.

'All the poultry farmers in the state that are doing it commercially, they have samples taken from their poultry flocks at various times,' Hess said.

Hess said small poultry groups are also tested for the virus. He said the biosecurity program statewide is training poultry owners what to expect and providing surveillance of the commercial poultry industry and the chicken swaps that occur.

In 2015, a strain of avian influenza believed to have originated in Asia spread through wild ducks and geese into Canada. It was spread to the United States from Canada along migratory bird flyways, according to a press release from ACES.

He said poultry found to be highly pathogenic have a higher mortality rate.

'The thing about the high pathogenic avian influenza is they die,' Hess said. 'You can have a flock of 20 chickens and you think maybe they might be starting to get a cold and then you go out the next morning and 18 of them are dead. Death is the symptom.'

Dr. Ken Macklin, extension specialist and a professor in the Poultry Science Department at Auburn University, said in a statement that poultry products remain safe to eat. He said the virus is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds, and through indirect contact through contaminated equipment and materials.

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