Hens in livestock cages
Hens in livestock cages. (Photo: Bell Ka Pang / Shutterstock.com)

By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Audrey Hill
Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

On February 23, 2022, the California State Veterinarian Annette B. Jones D.M.V. imposed a poultry quarantine and state entry requirements due to an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the U.S. The first cases were seen in South Carolina in January and have since spread throughout the U.S.; however, California has remained clear thus far. Over 40 million birds have been affected across 37 states and cases are still being reported every month. 199 reported cases have been from “backyard flocks” and 186 have been from commercial operations.

Poultry entering California must receive a permit if coming from a HPAI control area, however this restriction only applies to poultry from HPAI control areas or areas suspected of having the virus. Currently, (updated July 8, 2022) the HPAI control areas are Weld, CO, Carson City, NV, Lancaster, PA, and King, WA. States with active HPAI in domestic poultry are Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Nevada. The CDFA Avian Influenza alert page will continue updating these control areas and active virus states.

Fortunately, the strict regulations and quarantine currently imposed in California is helping the state to stay free of HPAI. Although no cases have been identified since the start of the outbreak, precaution is highly advised. In a video found on the YouTube channel CDFA TV and the CDFA Avian Influenza website page, Dr. Annette B. Jones discusses means of prevention and reporting at home. Common signs of avian influenza are lethargic birds, decreased food and/or water intake, and sudden death. It is strongly recommended to notify a local veterinarian or call the CDFA Sick Bird Hotline: (866) 922-BIRD if any of these signs are seen. It should be noted that humans can but rarely contract avian influenza.

Dr. Jones states that wild birds are major carriers of avian influenza and separating personal flocks from wild is the best form of prevention at home. Larger producers such as Central Valley Eggs are taking the threats of waterfowl like ducks and geese very seriously and are on high alert during the Spring migration, which tends to bring in the most diseases. By removing spilled feed and stagnant water, or moving flocks away from the water, bird owners can help limit interactions with contagious wild birds. Limiting visitors and wearing clean attire can also be helpful as the virus can live on hands, boots, and equipment. It is times like these where everyday biosecurity measures can make or break an operation, no matter how small.

Larger operations must maintain a certain level of biosecurity. It is not uncommon to see these facilities add to or strengthen their biosecurity when an outbreak like this occurs. Central Valley Eggs located in northern Wasco, CA is not an exception to this. Dann Snyder, Complex Manager for Central Valley Eggs, has maintained an increased biosecurity since the outbreak and will continue to uphold these stricter standards of surveillance and entry. 

“Humans are the main vectors,” Snyder says, and without any cases in the state to keep people on high alert, “People will go to places where migratory birds are, and then go to work and infect the birds.” Because of the risk, Snyder will “continue with the heightened biosecurity standard, only because there is a strong enough threat that it will occur next year.” An outbreak on a commercial farm has the potential to kill many birds. Keeping them safe from infection means the difference between producing normally and starting new flocks completely. Once avian influenza has reached a farm, the state and federal governments must be notified, and the farm must be “depopulated”— truly, the worst loss to any animal production facility.

For now, California remains in the clear with HPAI and there is hope that it will remain that way. Cases seem to be dying down, however, a single case can change the fate of many. It is important that individual bird owners and commercial operations stay on high alert. Thank you to all who have worked so diligently to keep California HPAI free.

Videos, infographics, and updates on the virus can be found at the CDFA Avian Influenza website and is a major source of information for this article.