Extension helps spread word about avian flu threat

Close shot of a turkey in poulty building with white feathers.

Students work with turkey's at the Turkey unit off Lake Wheeler road. Photo by Marc Hall

With authorities on high alert for avian influenza this fall and winter, North Carolina Cooperative Extension reached out across the state with educational programs aimed at helping owners of backyard poultry flocks keep the virus at bay.

The state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services held educational meetings in each of Extension’s five districts in September and October.

During those meetings, Dr. Donna Carver, a veterinarian with NC State University’s Prestage Department of Poultry Science, joined NCDA&CS veterinarian Dr. Mandy Tolson and others to get the word out about the state’s response planning and preparedness and what flock owners could do to reduce the risks.

The two agencies also published information online on the disease, its symptoms and how to help prevent its spread. Carver worked with others to develop a poster aimed at helping low-literacy audiences and those without the internet recognize the symptoms. And extension agents across the state wrote newspaper and newsletter articles geared for both flock owners and the general public.

Last year, an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza called H5N2 devastated flocks in the nation’s Midwest and Northwest regions, and authorities feared that ducks, geese and shorebirds would spread the disease to North Carolina and other parts of the country when they moved through during their fall migrations.

When this issue of Perspectives was
going to the press, North Carolina had not had a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza, but officials were urging caution. This strain has not infected people, and officials say that there’s no danger of getting the virus from eating cooked eggs or poultry meat. Still, the stakes are high, not just for the backyard flocks but for a commercial poultry and egg industry worth billions of dollars annually in the state.

North Carolina is considered the nation’s third-leading state when it comes to poultry and egg production, and broilers are the state’s top agricultural commodity.

Because of the threat, the state department of agriculture cancelled live bird shows and sales through Jan. 15, and Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program suspended its popular school embryology projects.

The agriculture department also urged all flock owners to register at http://ncagr.gov/ncfarmid. Officials indicated that registration is necessary for state officials to communicate with poultry owners if an outbreak does occur.

– Dee Shore

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