Avian influenza can’t make humans sick, but it has driven the cost of eggs up and will result in consumers paying more for their holiday turkeys.
Avian flu has affected 21 states and 48 million birds to date since the discovery of the current outbreak of the disease on North American shores in December 2014. Commercial and backyard poultry in Georgia have gone untouched so far, but the state’s agriculture industry is preparing for the potential arrival of the pathogen.
There have been no cases of human infection by birds because the H5N2 strain of the virus is not zoonotic, meaning it cannot pass between humans and animals. (Zoonotic avian influenza, also referred to as “bird flu,” can be transmitted from birds to humans.)
Strictly an animal health issue and not a food safety or public health issue, avian flu still impacts consumers, especially those who enjoy eating eggs. The price of eggs has increased this year because the U.S. egg-layer industry has lost 10 percent of its average inventory to the disease.
The U.S. turkey industry has lost 7.45 percent of its average inventory. As a result, consumers can expect higher prices for this year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.
Commercially produced poultry is tested for avian flu in the U.S. prior to being processed, so poultry products are safe to eat.
Agriculture is the largest segment of Georgia’s economy, and the poultry industry tops the commodity list. Georgia’s poultry/egg industry contributes an estimated $28 billion annually and supports nearly 109,000 jobs in the state.
Believed to have originated in Asia and spread through wild waterfowl to northern North America, avian flu has been spread across the U.S. by migrating birds.
The virus cannot survive above 65 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 10 days, which helps to safeguard Georgia poultry. However, as birds begin migrating south this fall, Georgia will become more susceptible. Before now, the disease has been concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and upper Midwest.
While Georgia’s commercial poultry industry has the greatest risk in terms of potential for loss, it also has multiple safeguards in place and limits commercial birds’ exposure to migratory birds. However, avian flu can easily be introduced into Georgia through backyard chicken flocks.
For more information on avian flu, call the Georgia Department of Agriculture at (404) 656-3667 or see the UGA Extension website at extension.uga.edu/topics/poultry/avian-flu.
For information on keeping backyard poultry flocks healthy, contact your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent or read UGA Extension publications at extension.uga.edu/publications.
(Josh Fuder is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agricultural and natural resources agent in Cherokee County.)
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