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Avian influenza
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If you regularly follow the news, you may have noticed several recent stories about a new strain of bird flu seriously affecting poultry production across the United States.

Although it has not yet been detected in Georgia, it has the potential to significantly impact our poultry industry.

This latest strain of Avian Influenza (AI) was first detected in wild birds and backyard flocks in the western part of the country.

It has been detected in turkey and laying hen flocks in the Midwest, causing 50 million birds to be euthanized. This has been devastating to the many poultry farmers affected by the outbreak.

The influenza is spread by migratory birds. It is passed on to other birds by fecal material and can easily spread through open drinking water sources, like ponds and lakes.

Wild birds carrying the virus usually show no outward symptoms, however it causes high mortality rates in commercial birds.

Luckily, this strain of influenza has not been shown to easily pass to humans from birds, and it cannot be contracted by properly prepared meat products.

Migratory birds fly to Canada in the summer time via four major flyways. So far, this virus hasn't been detected in the Eastern Flyway, which passes over parts of Georgia.

However, as fall approaches, migratory waterfowl will be returning over Georgia after interacting in Canada with other possibly infected birds. The big fear is that avian influenza could spread to Georgia poultry flocks with the migratory birds.

Georgia's poultry industry is massive, encompassing about $38 billion in total economic impact in the state. Local poultry producers have already begun instituting strict biosecurity practices on their chicken farms. Outside access to poultry houses is severely limited, and any person or vehicle entering the property must be disinfected at several points on the farm. Local emergency management agencies are partnering with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the USDA to prepare for the worst and quickly contain any detected infection.

Even if you are not a poultry farmer, citizens play an important role in helping prevent accidental spread of avian influenza. Avoid walking or driving near poultry houses. Because the virus is spread by fecal material, anyone could accidentally cause an infection by bringing in feces on car tires or shoes.

If you have a small backyard flock of chickens, your biosecurity practices are very important. Limit the amount of outside contact with your flock. Make sure to regularly wash all tools and clothing that come in contact with your birds. Avoid watering your birds from open water sources, such as ponds, as the virus can stay active in water sources for several months. Be sure to avoid other backyard bird flocks.

Symptoms of avian influenza in your backyard flock will include sudden bird death, nasal discharge, watery green-colored diarrhea, swelling around the eyes and head, and a general lack of energy.

If you believe your backyard flock has contracted the virus, call the Georgia Poultry Lab in Gainesville at (770) 766-6810. They can test live and dead birds for avian influenza virus.