Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, has been continually devastating flocks across the country since 2021. It’s the worst outbreak on record with a mortality rate of up to 100% and there is no cure. It has infected flocks from backyard keepers to large commercial producers.
If poultry owners are caught in an outbreak it can have a huge impact on them financially, emotionally and socially. The impact can also be felt by their families, employees and both the local and national economy as well as the environment.
One of the main reasons the virus spreads so easily is because it has the ability to survive for extended periods of time, in different environments; resulting in the unintentional, rapid spread of the disease.
The different types of bird flu
There are 2 types of bird flu. One is the deadly, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and the other is low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI), which can show few, if any, clinical signs.
There are many strains of avian influenza as it has mutated and spread globally, including the highly pathogenic H5N6, H5N8, H7N9 and the latest, incredibly infectious HPAI strain, H5N1. Recent analysis in the summer of 2022 revealed that the virus had become four to five times more virulent compared to earlier versions, underscoring the importance of proactive measures in maintaining cleanliness and vigilance in the face of evolving viral threats.
Highly pathogenic strains
The amount of time HPAI strains can survive on surfaces vary. Some will thrive under different temperatures, for example H5N1 can be present in duck feathers for 15 days in 20 degrees celsius and high humidity. In drinking water the strain can last up to three days, infecting birds as they drink. The H5N8 strain, in the past, has survived for eight hours on clean plastic at 21°C and three hours on clean metal surfaces and by 2020, the virus had adapted giving it a 50% longer survival time.
Infectivity in the environment is another crucial factor to consider. Data from APHA Weybridge suggests that the H5N1 virus can remain infectious in the environment for an extended period, even at low temperatures. At 4°C, it can retain its infectivity for up to 55 days, which means that, under certain conditions, the environment could remain contaminated for several weeks, posing a continuous risk of infection.
Several strains of HPAI can survive on a farm and in premises for a long period of time. The deadly virus thrives on a frightening range of surfaces including fencing, bedding, machinery, vehicles, utensils and even feed. Keeping these spaces free from contaminants is a significant step in the battle against viral transmission.
Low pathogenic strains
There is also evidence LPAI strains persisting on various surfaces within the farm environment. For example, the H13N7 strain can endure for six days in low-light conditions on both latex and feathers. At room temperature (around 20°C), it can remain viable in drinking water for up to three days, and on duck feathers, it can persist for as long as 15 days under similar temperature conditions. However, when exposed to extreme temperatures between 32°C and 35°C, the disease can be rapidly eradicated from faecal matter within just 30 minutes.
Low pathogenic strains do not usually cause a major problem. However, if left untreated, they can mutate into the much more serious HPAI and result in the destruction of entire flocks.
Planning for prevention
Farmers and keepers must be proactive and deploy the most stringent biosecurity measures to meet these threats head on.
Having a biosecurity plan in place is the best protection. From ensuring all vehicles and visitors are thoroughly disinfected to preventing vermin and wild birds entering a farm or coup to monitoring all movements on and off-farm to regularly cleaning and disinfecting animal housing, storage and all other facilities. All this plays a part in preventing a disease incursion.
Be aware, be prepared
Knowing what you need to do to protect your birds is vital. It can be the difference between the survival of the virus, the survival of your flock and the success of your farm and your business.
Contact our biosecurity experts today to begin your preparations for safeguarding against avian influenza.
To help poultry owners plan their protection, we have developed a range of innovative products and services designed to protect the future of backyard keepers and commercial producers. They include:
Biosecurity Advisory Service: On-farm visit by our experts to maximise your biosecurity.
Contingency Plan: Prepares you for worst case scenarios.
Biosecurity Plan: Encompasses all measures to prevent the introduction of deadly pathogens.
Emergency Response Plan: Enhances preparedness in an outbreak.
National Outbreak Plan: Ensures you comply with government regulations if impacted by an outbreak.
Cleansing and Disinfection Plan: A framework for all measures required to comply with APHA.
Farm Health Guardian: Maximise biosecurity with digital technology.