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Virginia is a leader in avian flu response; numbers lower in commonwealth

WFXR Roanoke logo WFXR Roanoke 1/27/2023 George Noleff
Virginia is a leader in avian flu response; numbers lower in commonwealth © Provided by WFXR Roanoke Virginia is a leader in avian flu response; numbers lower in commonwealth

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Egg prices are at or near record highs. A worldwide outbreak of avian influenza is the reason why. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports avian flu has depleted egg-laying flocks so much that egg inventories are 29% lower than they were a year ago.

While there have been numerous outbreaks around the United States, there has been only one outbreak in a commercial flock in Virginia, and that was reported at a turkey facility in Rockingham County on January 19. Poultry experts say the low number is because of the stringent protocols and management practices put in place in the commonwealth to prevent the spread of the disease.

Those rules and practices are in place due to a special task force set up following an outbreak in 2002. State agriculture officials, farmers, and poultry industry leaders set up that task force to prevent more outbreaks. Poultry industry experts say Virginia is a model for other states.

“Following the 2002 outbreak we developed a prevention and rapid response plan that ultimately became a model for the national response plans,” said Virginia Poultry Federation President Hobey Bauhan. “We’ve done tabletop exercises, we’ve developed bio-security standards that are audited; so we’ve done a lot of work to try to prevent the introduction of avian influenza into commercial poultry flocks.”

Coming up with a plan to combat avian flu was necessary from an economic standpoint.

“Poultry is Virginia’s largest agricultural sector,” said Bauhan. “It has an economic impact, a direct impact, of about $5-billion. If you add in the indirect impacts, it’s about $13-billion. It employs thousands of people. It supports about 11-hundred family farms across the state. So, it’s very important to our agriculture sector, as well as the economy in general.”

No other commercial flock infections have been reported in Virginia since last week. Bauhan says the Virginia task force went immediately into action, taking steps to ensure the virus did not spread.

Animal disease experts say this strain of the avian flu has been hard to get under control because it is slightly different from strains in past outbreaks. Normally, avian flu viruses do not do well in warmer temperatures, but this strain was able to sustain itself through the summer months after first being detected more than a year ago.

This strain also appears to be spread by migratory birds rather than flock to flock. Water fowl can be infected, but suffer no symptoms. However, when ducks and geese migrate, they can spread the virus to birds and poultry that do incur symptoms and death from the virus.

While egg prices have increased during the outbreak, poultry prices have started to come down. Commodities experts say that is because the outbreak has infected fewer meat-producing chickens than it has egg-production chickens.

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