Avian influenza (AI) viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds. Migratory waterfowl have proved to be a natural reservoir for the disease. AI viruses can be classified into low pathogenicity (LPAI) and high pathogenicity (HPAI) based on the severity of the illness they cause. HPAI is an extremely infectious and fatal form of the disease that, once established, can spread rapidly from flock to flock. However, some LPAI virus strains are capable of mutating under field conditions into HPAI viruses.
Avian influenza is not easily transmitted from birds to humans. It is not impossible, but it doesn’t happen easily or very often. Most human infections with avian influenza viruses have occurred following direct or close contact with infected poultry. Unless human beings are directly exposed to blood or excrement of infected poultry, avian influenza is a disease of birds, not humans.
Georgia’s poultry industry has a $28 billion annual impact on the State’s economy, which would be devastated by the discovery of HPAI in Georgia. The normal movement of poultry and poultry products from any state in which avian influenza virus is present and spreading is a major and real threat to Georgia’s public welfare.
The USDA National Veterinary Services Lab (NVSL) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the following 21 states (AR, CA, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, ND, NM, NV, OR, SD, UT, WA, WI, WY). HPAI has been detected in three of the four major flyways in the US. The Atlantic flyway, in which Georgia is a part of, is the only migratory route in the US that HPAI has not yet been found.
AI can be spread from bird to bird by direct contact as well as by manure, equipment, vehicles, egg flats, crates, and people whose clothing or shoes have come in contact with the virus. AI viruses can remain viable at moderate temperatures for long periods in the environment and can survive indefinitely in frozen material. Everyone should be vigilant. All poultry should be kept away from wild waterfowl and strict biosecurity procedures maintained. Any contact with wild waterfowl such as duck hunting should be followed by multiple showers; cleaning and disinfection of footwear and all clothing, vehicles and equipment; and a period of at least 72 hours before any contact with commercial poultry.
Any evidence of increased disease in poultry should be immediately reported to the Georgia Department of Agriculture on our website or by calling Animal Health at 404-656-3667.