State officials warn poultry owners of spike in avian flu cases

50 confirmed cases in the Mat-Su in recent weeks have been identified as wild birds begin migration
50 confirmed cases in the Mat-Su in recent weeks have been identified, as wild birds begin migration
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After new cases of highly pathogenic aviation influenza were identified in recent weeks, the Division of Environmental Health’s Office of the State Veterinarian wants poultry owners to take preventative measures to protect their flocks.

State officials confirmed the disease in 50 chickens and mixed domestic poultry in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough between Sep. 29 and Oct. 1.

Assistant State Veterinarian Sarah Coburn said the area has a high probability of transmission.

“It’s just an area where there’s more people, wild birds coming through, and a higher density of poultry owners as well,” Coburn said. “They’re in an area with a lot of waterways.”

This is the first year the state has seen cases of avian influenza in domestic poultry, with the first infected flock reported in the Mat-Su in 30 mixed domestic birds on Apr. 29.

Since then, the virus has been found in a number of wild bird species throughout the summer all across the state, but the recent uptick in domestic flocks has prompted officials to warn residents of potential exposure during migration season.

“Certainly a lot of birds have migrated south already, but the two cases we had were just identified last week,” Coburn said.

The virus is spread through direct contact with infected birds as well as contaminated equipment or materials such as water and feed.

There are a number of preventative measures poultry owners can take to help mitigate the risk of exposure, such as covering runs, sanitizing equipment, limiting free-ranging, and having a dedicated pair of shoes for use when working inside pens and coops.

“All the good practices of limiting contact between wild and domestic birds is really important, and it’s going to be important next spring too,” Coburn said.

“One thing I would like poultry producers to think about too, is even when we get really into winter and the risk really is decreased, this could be something that is of concern next spring as well.”

Signs of an infected bird include sudden death, respiratory distress, abnormal behavior or difficulty walking, diarrhea, and lethargy.

Coburn said that if avian influenza is suspected that individuals should contact their local veterinarian or the Office of the State Veterinarian at 907-375-8215.

Correction: This story was changed to correct the phone number of the Office of the State Veterinarian.