Bird flu comes to South West after millions of birds die

Bird flu comes to South West after millions of birds die
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Arizona officials have confirmed the first cases in the Southwest of a bird flu that has killed 37 million birds on commercial farms in the central and eastern United States.

The disease was spotted after tests by federal wildlife officials on three wild cormorants that were found dead in a park in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona, game and fisheries officials said this week.

The disease has not yet been found in domestic birds or commercial farms, the agency said.

But it’s a concern, according to Glenn Hickman, president and CEO of Hickman Family Farms, one of the largest egg producers in the Southwest. Hickman operates four chicken ranches in Arizona, one in California and two in Colorado.

The company has stopped all visits to its farms and rechecked its biosecurity program, which is designed to prevent its approximately 2 million chickens from becoming infected. His chickens are kept in secure barns so wild birds cannot enter, and any people or tools that enter are sanitized.

Arizona Game and Fish officials are monitoring the disease closely responding to all calls for dead birds.
dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

The company dodged a scare recently when bird flu was discovered in a flock 3 miles from one of its Colorado farms, Hickman said Thursday. And while he’s concerned about the Scottsdale discovery, it’s not as concerning as if a nearby business operation had an outbreak.

“These are much scarier because the massive amount of virus potentially produced when you have a large population is much greater than the relatively low amount of virus per bird in the wild bird population,” he said. None of his farms were affected.

Arizona Game and Fish officials are closely monitoring the disease, which was no closer than Colorado before this week’s announcement, responding to all calls for dead birds.

Anne Justice-Allen, the department’s wildlife veterinarian, said calls from the public alerted her agency to dead cormorants, waterfowl that often nest in groups. The three juveniles had fallen from their nest and were spotted dead by early morning walkers in the park, who called wildlife officials.

Glenn Hickman, CEO of Hickman Family Farms, has asked his company to stop visits to its farms and recheck its biosecurity program.
Glenn Hickman, CEO of Hickman Family Farms, has asked his company to stop visits to its farms and recheck its biosecurity program.
Hickman Family Farms

“It’s a good thing they did,” Judge Allen said, because they were able to collect the birds and test them before park workers removed them.

“We had a strong suspicion that it was something we don’t normally see,” Judge-Allen said. “We have resident cormorants in the area, and we don’t normally see mortality events in them.”

Judge Allen said a major concern was flocks of backyard chickens, which are permitted in parts of metro Phoenix. The disease has been discovered in numerous owner herds across the country.

Bird owners should watch for symptoms such as birds not eating or lethargy, runny nose, seizures or diarrhea, she said. Anyone seeing these symptoms should call the state Department of Agriculture.

The first detection in the United States of the new strain of highly contagious bird flu in domestic poultry was in February in Indiana. More than 37 million birds have been killed to prevent the infection from spreading since then.

As of June 3, it had been detected in wild birds in 40 states, but not in California, Arizona, Nevada or New Mexico. Commercial flocks in 19 states have been infected.

Once an infection is detected, the birds do not recover and are killed to prevent the spread of the disease, Judge Allen said.

The epidemic has not only killed domestic poultry. It also took a heavy toll on bald eagles and other wild bird speciesfar more than the country’s last bird flu epidemic detected in 2014. This epidemic claimed more than 50 million domestic poultry.

Hickman said egg farmers are making up for lost production so far from outbreaks affecting flocks this year.

“I think I can say pretty strongly that regardless of how many birds have been affected and depopulated, there are still eggs on every shelf of every grocery store in America,” Hickman said.

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