AUGUSTA, Maine — State officials said Thursday they are preparing for a possible avian flu outbreak and taking steps to alert the public about how to help prevent or minimize its impact on domestic poultry.
The highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, virus is of low risk to people, and there have been no reported human infections resulting from the current outbreak in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus, however, has decimated commercial chicken and turkey flocks in other states, causing supply disruptions and higher prices for consumers.
“This disease has not been detected in Maine or anywhere on the eastern migratory bird flyway yet, but Maine is being proactive about taking precautions to control its spread,” Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday in a prepared statement. “State veterinary staff have alerted veterinarians and poultry growers across Maine, asking them to keep a close eye on their flocks during the fall migration of wild waterfowl, the next significant threat of introduction of HPAI in Maine and the East.”
“Veterinarians, commercial producers and backyard poultry owners can help us in our efforts by reporting unhealthy birds,” Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said in the same release issued Thursday by the department. “All poultry owners should report unusual sudden bird deaths in a flock — especially three or more within a week — or birds that exhibit signs of unexplained sickness.”
Whitcomb stressed it is “important to note that the HPAI virus is of low risk to people and there have been no reported human infections resulting from the current outbreak of HPAI in the United States, according to the [CDC].”
Dr. Michele Walsh, state veterinarian, is leading the state’s response with University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service veterinarians, according to the agriculture department’s release. They are closely monitoring the avian influenza viruses that have been detected in poultry flocks in the Midwest and in western states to date and are offering disease prevention tips to poultry producers, including backyard chicken farmers.
The program is a joint effort between the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry and University of Maine Extension program with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to monitor for infectious diseases in Maine poultry, including avian influenza viruses.
These surveillance efforts also include outreach to Maine’s veterinarians and people in the poultry industry to encourage a quick and sound response to outbreaks that pose a threat to the industry or to public health. In addition to routinely testing many commercial and backyard birds every year, the program randomly tests birds at events such as county fairs, bird shows and swaps.
More than 49 million chickens and turkeys have been euthanized in the U.S. to control the spread of avian flu. Avian influenza viruses are carried globally in wild migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. They can be transmitted to domestic birds and then between domestic flocks, carried on shared equipment or clothing worn by people moving from one flock to another, for example.
Those who have sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes can contact the state veterinarian at 287-7615 or the USDA at 866-536-7593.
Dead birds may be submitted to the University of Maine Animal Health Lab on the Orono campus for free HPAI testing. Before submitting anything, call the lab at 581-2788 for details.