Bird flu is in the Commonwealth. What does that mean for you?

Bird Flu Biological Warfare
Posted at 1:47 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 20:01:32-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - It can be found in poultry farms big and small, and even in your backyard chicken coop.

The avian flu, or bird flu, is raising concern for many experts, and the CDC, USDA and other organizations are on high alert after it was found in the Commonwealth earlier this month.

The last reported outbreak of bird flu was in 2015, and it killed 50 million birds across 15 states.

Experts say the disease spreads rapidly and can kill an entire flock if a bird is infected.

"This happens to be one of the more deadly strains for poultry," said Dr. Mike Persia, an associate professor at Virginia Tech and a specialist of poultry nutrition and management in the Virginia Cooperative Extension's Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences.

The bird flu has now been reported in several states, including Virginia.

"The first case diagnosed was in northern Virginia," Persia said. "It was a backyard flock - a mixed flock of turkeys and chickens."

Persia says this disease is incurable.

"The best way to combat it, once we identify a case, we go in and euthanize the flock to stop the spread of disease," he said.

Poultry producers large and small, even those with backyard chicken coops, need to be aware, as the bird flu is transmitted through migratory or shore birds, primarily through feces.

"Bring any birds that are outside, inside," Persia said.

Persia says always wash your hands and wear a different pair of shoes in and out of the farm or backyard coop.

As for human risk, it is very, very minimal, says Dr. Ryan Light with Greenbrier Family Medicine in Chesapeake.

"We only have seen 860 cases worldwide since 2003 — it's very rare in humans," Light said. "However, when it does affect humans, it has a 53% death rate. It's a very dangerous virus."

Light says poultry workers would be most at risk, but right now the CDC says that's a long shot. What could be on the horizon if the disease spreads, though, is higher poultry costs, which are already soaring.

"We could see inflation in the poultry industry - chicken, turkey, domestic duck," Persia said. "If it affects big farms, they would have to eliminate animals on that farm, thus causing more supply chain issues."

It is completely safe to eat chicken, turkey and duck right now, the CDC says.

Anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists and an available toolkit.