Avian flu confirmed in Toombs County backyard flock
By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau
The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) have confirmed Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in a non-commercial, backyard flock of various species located in Toombs County in Southeast Georgia.
This is the first confirmation of HPAI in domestic birds in Georgia this year. Previously, the virus had only been confirmed in wild birds in Georgia.
It is important to note that avian influenza does not pose a risk to the food supply, and no affected animals entered the food chain. The risk of human infection with avian influenza is very low.
The flock owner, who raises a variety of bird species, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, peafowl and others, told media outlets that he had noticed dead buzzards nearby and then some of his birds started dying. The flock owners reported sick birds and an increased rate of mortality among the ducks in their flock prompting the GDA to investigate.
Samples taken on May 29 were tested for the presence of H5N1 avian influenza virus in the flock by the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network (GPLN) and USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL).
As of June 2, there have been no detections in commercial poultry in the state this year, according to the GDA.
“Poultry is the top sector of our number one industry, agriculture, and we are committed to protecting the livelihoods of the many farm families that are dependent on it,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black. “In order to successfully do that, it is imperative that we continue our efforts of extensive biosecurity.”
The GDA held a press conference on June 2 during which details of the department’s response were presented by State Veterinarian Janemarie Hennebelle, GDA Inspector General Gary Kelley, GDA Director of Emergency Management Vanessa Sims and Georgia Poultry Lab Network Director Louise Zavala.
Zavala said that a round of surveillance testing has been conducted on all commercial poultry farms within a 10 kilometer (6 mile) radius of the affected backyard flock. As of June 2, that testing has not turned up any positive results, but more testing is planned, Zavala said.
Georgia is the 36th state this year to have a confirmed case of H5N1 in a domestic bird flock in this outbreak that has beset more than 350 flocks and nearly 38 million birds nationwide.
At the Toombs County farm, the Georgia State Agricultural Response Team (SART) worked with the flock owner to perform testing, euthanize and dispose of more than 350 birds and GDA staff facilitated cleaning and disinfection efforts at the farm. This work was completed within 48 hours.
Hennebelle said the state’s coordinated response that included multiple government agencies and the flock owner had contained the virus on the premises and reduced the likelihood it would spread. A few free-range chickens remained unaccounted for at the time of the June 2 press conference.
“We want to encourage all of our flock owners, small or large, to maintain vigilance and ensure that you have robust measures in place to protect your birds,” Hennebelle said.
Hennebelle specifically mentioned the following measures:
• Moving birds with outdoor access indoors or covering their enclosures to reduce exposure to wild birds that might be shedding the virus;
• Review biosecurity practices with a veterinarian or Extension Agent, or
• Visit the GDA avian influenza webpage for biosecurity resources.
Commissioner Black praised the Toombs County producers for reporting their dead birds.
“We really want to commend this producer because they noticed they had birds dying and they called and reported it immediately. We owe a debt of gratitude to the producer for helping us to contain the virus to their premises.”
All poultry flock owners – backyard and commercial - are encouraged to closely observe their birds and report a sudden increase in the number of sick birds or bird deaths to the Avian Influenza Hotline at 770-766-6850.
The USDA has programs to compensate bird owners for birds and eggs that have to be depopulated due to a positive case of HPAI and for the cost of depopulation and disposal activities and virus disinfection activities. If the bird owner and grower are separate entities, as is the case in commercial flocks, compensation may be split between the two. The USDA cannot offer compensation for income or production losses resulting from downtime or other business disruptions.
Black said the GDA is walking the Toombs County producer through the process of getting compensation.
Zavala provided additional details on how the virus is spread.
“This virus is carried by wildlife,” Zavala said. “This virus has been circulating in Asia and Europe recently, with high numbers of detections in both wildlife, commercial and noncommercial poultry in 2001, 2020, 2021 and here we are in 2022. So, the migratory birds are carrying this virus around the globe.”
Zavala said this indicates the virus is in the environment and emphasized that several species of wildlife are carrying the virus and shedding it. To protect domestic flocks, Zavala recommended establishing what she called a “line of separation” between where the flock is and where wildlife are, and taking measures to ensure that humans are not tracking the virus into flock enclosures. This can be accomplished by use of disinfecting foot baths at enclosure entry points or using only dedicated or disposable footwear when entering the enclosure, as well as limiting visitors to chicken houses or coops.
The GDA’s official order suspending poultry exhibitions and assembly of poultry, issued by the state veterinarian’s office on February 16, remains in effect. This order prohibits all exhibitions, shows, sales (flea markets, auction markets), swaps and meets pertaining to poultry and feathered fowl in Georgia until further notice.
For more updates and information regarding biosecurity tips to prevent the spread of HPAI visit:
According to Sims, information about protecting human health and stress-related conditions like compassion fatigue that can accompany the experience of having a positive HPAI case was shared with the flock owner and is available for other producers. The Georgia Crisis and Access line (1-800-715-4225 or www.mygcal.com) is available to connect individuals with a variety of resources to help with their mental well-being.