A new strain of avian influenza isn’t making people sick, but the virus is highly lethal to birds and has the potential to devastate the poultry industry, which has a $28 billion impact on the state’s economy.
“The mortality potential is what makes this so different, because this particular disease has an 85-to-100 percent mortality rate (for birds),” said Madison County Extension Agent Adam Speir.
He said an outbreak of the flu in Georgia chickens could have severe consequences.
“It would be bad,” said Speir. “You are losing jobs locally and income for farmers; you’re losing a lot of these allied industries that support the poultry industry. So if this starts to spread, it’s going to impact a lot of people in a lot of different ways.”
Speir and other officials are urging all who own chickens, whether it’s a big operation or just a few backyard birds, to take safety precautions to prevent their poultry from catching the deadly H5N2 flu strain, which has moved with migrating birds from Europe and Asia, up to the Arctic, and then traveled back down with migratory birds from North America.
Speir said the virus arriving in Georgia is not a matter of “if” but “when.” So, he said preparing is essential.
“We can’t stop migratory birds from coming through and intermingling with geese and other birds that are here,” said Speir. “But what we’re trying to do is raise awareness so commercial growers and backyard growers understand what the potential risk is and signs to look for, who to call if they notice problems, so that we can keep a close control of the situation if it does show up in Georgia.”
The bird flu has already hit several states hard, including Iowa and Minnesota, with over 48 million birds affected. While the flu is highly lethal to quail, turkey and chickens, other birds, such as ducks, geese and songbirds can carry the virus and not show any symptoms.
“It’s not impacting their health,” said Speir. “They’re just carriers. But the birds we have in our commercial houses and backyards, it will kill them quickly and in large numbers and the virus is very easily spread from bird to bird.
So poultry companies have been communicating with their growers about the flu.
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