Officials outline impact of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Virginia

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 9:59 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Highly pathogenic avian influenza isn’t new to Virginia, or other states, for that matter. But a recent infection at a commercial turkey operation in Rockingham County has caused some concern.

“We’re in the midst of the largest outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in U.S. history,” said Dr. Charlie Broaddus, the Virginia state veterinarian.

Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services learned a commercial operation in Rockingham County, housing 25,000 turkeys, had the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“We’ve had six cases in Virginia prior to this one this year, but they were smaller backyard flocks. Whereas, this is the first large commercial scale operation, something we always recognized would be a possibility,” said Broaddus.

The infected birds will be humanely euthanized. One of the most important parts of identifying the virus is making sure it stays isolated to one farm.

“Things that we are doing to try to prevent further spread is a really a big, big focus on biosecurity,” said Broaddus.

There’s a very low chance of the virus spreading to humans, according to animal health officials.

“This strain, as it has been in Europe, and has been in the U.S. for a year, does not seem to be very effective to humans, very, very limited transmission to humans,” said Mike Persia, a professor and extension specialist at the School of Animal Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.

But it’s not clear when we might see the end of highly pathogenic avian influenza, especially in the presence of cold weather.

“That’s the interesting thing, is this virus seems to be a little bit different. It has a little bit more staying power than the variants that we’ve seen in the past,” said Persia.

“We’re gonna hope that this is the one infected flock here in Virginia, but certainly prepared for it to spread from that flock if there are lapses in biosecurity or if the virus just manages to move from one farm to the other,” said Broaddus.

There are ways you can keep your flock protected.

“Keeping birds undercover, feeding your birds inside. Doing everything you can to keep birds, especially migratory fowl, away from your birds is going to help out, having some sort of sanitation, especially for your footwear before you go interact with those birds,” said Persia.

Anyone who may believe there birds are sick or are acting unusual should report it to the State Veterinarian’s Office by calling (804)-692-0601 or by emailing vastatevet@vdacs.virginia.gov.