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UMaine Cooperative Extension warns of Avian Flu

On Jan. 25, Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, associate professor of animal and veterinary sciences at the University of Maine, released information about a recent outbreak of avian influenza, more commonly known as the bird flu, on a large turkey farm in Indiana.

Lichtenwalner has worked for the UMaine since 2008 and has directed the Animal Health Lab while conducting research in animal health.

The information in the release advised Maine poultry producers to apply caution against the flu throughout the winter months. The spread of the disease can occur from wild birds and turkeys effected in the Indiana region.

“When it’s the highly pathogenic (HPAI) form, it rapidly kills many types of birds,” Lichtenwalner said.

The UMaine Cooperative Extension seeks to notify farmers and the general public about the avian flu. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to stop the spread of avian influenza in Indiana by depopulating the flocks of birds, and so far has been successful in their containment of the virus.

“We hope that HPAI will not be found in Maine, however, if it arrives here it will probably be carried by migrating wild birds,” Lichtenwalner said. “In that case, our backyard flocks and our commercial flocks might become infected.”

In instances where HPAI is confirmed in a flock of birds, the USDA will act to quarantine the infected farms. This could have effects on Maine’s poultry industry if it spreads because the flocks will need to be depopulated. The Center of Disease Control is also watching carefully to monitor viral strains in these outbreaks.

The Jan. 15 outbreak in Indiana resulted in the euthanizing of nearly 400,000 turkeys and chickens. This, according to Reuters, was the first outbreak since June.

Although HPAI can be deadly to domestic turkeys, there is no information saying that the strain will affect humans. The UMaine Cooperative Extension does not conduct research, but does provide producers and farmers with the appropriate information for preventive practices against outbreaks.

Cooperative Extension also provides services to veterinarians and livestock producers through the UMaine Animal Health Lab. Producers can use the lab and participate in informational seminars about research and diagnostics.

“The highest risks are either contact (personnel, equipment, birds) with infected flocks, or direct contact with wild birds,” Lichtenwalner said.

The Cooperative Extension advises farmers to keep a watch on their flocks, even though most of the flocks are inside during the winter months, because it is not certain which species of birds are immune to the virus. Birds should be kept in separate places from wild birds, especially when feeding.

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