What can we learn from the UK avian influenza outbreaks?

By Tim Nelson, President and CIO

Key points:

  • Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (HPAI) has been confirmed in the U.S. in Kentucky and Indiana, as well as Nova Scotia, Canada.
  • This comes as the United Kingdom and European Union are still dealing with the disease.
  • Understanding people and vehicle movements within a network is essential to prevent and control spread.

Commercial poultry farms in the United Kingdom are still dealing with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 (HPAI) since the outbreak started in November 2021. Italy and France continue to struggle to control the spread with over 300 outbreaks in the last few months. In Canada, HPAI was confirmed in a commercial turkey flock in Nova Scotia early February.

As recently as February 9 an affected barn was reported in Indiana USA and on February 14 APHIS (USDA) confirmed a second outbreak of HPAI in a commercial broiler flock in Kentucky. The 2015 AI outbreak which devastated turkey flocks in many US States cost US$4 billion and more than 15,000 jobs – only a handful of which were replaced. Is industry well enough prepared to prevent a repeat of that disaster? Do we know enough about our transport and people connection networks to be able to predict spread and prevent such significant losses?

The relatively small regions of Thirsk and Alford in the UK had the largest number of affected farms. In both cases the outbreaks were localised and struck over a relatively short time period. On November 29, the UK government instated a requirement to keep all poultry indoors to heighten biosecurity and protect flocks.

The Alford outbreaks occurred after this housing mandate. There is therefore significantly less likelihood the pathogen was introduced into multiple sites by wild birds in anything other than the first case. Even though it is impossible to point the finger at a lapse in biosecurity as the smoking gun, it would suggest as much.

Contrast the Alford incidents with the recent Indiana case which occurred on a property with four adjacent barns. Only one barn was affected! It’s not a miracle. According to Indiana State Veterinarian Bret Marsh, “It’s a testament to the company’s exceptional biosecurity.”

Comparing the unprecedented spread of HPAI outbreaks in the UK with the Indiana outbreak, it’s clear that there are lessons to be learned and steps all poultry keepers/producers can take. Remember the maxim, “Keep it out and if you’ve got it, keep it in”? You can achieve this through monitoring and controlling people and vehicle movements on and off your property.

Animal health authorities should investigate the real-time vehicle movement data to assess the farms at risk and prevent further spread.

The research agrees. An analysis of the network between poultry farms in Korea during the HPAI outbreak of 2016-2017 corroborates that an understanding of people and vehicle movements within a network of farms is essential to prevent and control spread.1 This will minimize negative impacts of disease through active surveillance and targeting restrictions to the highest risk premises. The researchers go further to recommend that animal health authorities should investigate the real-time vehicle movement data to assess the farms at risk and prevent further spread.

It’s not just poultry. An analysis of the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks in China which recently appeared in the peer reviewed journal Viruses identified people as the main source of disease spread. Almost half (46%) of the ASF outbreaks appear to have had the virus introduced by people and vehicles.2

On-going vigilance in practicing biosecurity is critical, and Farm Health Guardian gives real-time movement data, helping strengthen your biosecurity and protect the health of your flock or herd.

Visit www.FarmHealthGuardian.com to learn more.