ANNAPOLIS, MD –  September 23 is the first day of fall and the cooler temperatures mean Maryland poultry growers, large and small, are at a much higher risk of seeing High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) destroy their flocks. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is urging all growers to ensure they are using the most stringent biosecurity measures possible to protect their birds.

“We believe HPAI could arrive in Maryland this fall or, at the latest, next spring,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “It could show up anywhere – in a flock out west, a poultry house on the Eastern Shore or a backyard flock in southern Maryland. We must be vigilant and cannot afford to take any risks. All growers, no matter their flock size or location, must take precautions now. We know it’s difficult to maintain a high level of biosecurity alert day after day, but it is better than the alternative. We have to do all we can to keep this virus out of the poultry flocks.”

HPAI entered the Pacific Northwest of the United States in December 2014 and has been marching east ever since. The virus does not live in hot temperatures so incidents of HPAI declined over the summer, as expected. It is generally carried by migratory waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, which began their fall migrations this month. The virus can be easily transmitted from bird to bird and from contaminated equipment to birds. Prior to 2014, there have been only three HPAI outbreaks in commercial poultry in U.S. history (1924, 1983 and 2004). The HPAI strains found currently in the United States have been detected at 223 sites in 15 states, impacting more than 48 million birds. (See the latest national impact.) To date, these HPAI strains have not been detected in humans.

To mitigate the risk of HPAI from infecting Maryland poultry flocks, MDA prohibited poultry exhibitions at all fairs and shows after Aug. 25 and issued an order requiring all hatching eggs and poultry entering from out of state to be tested within 10 days or come from certified clean sources. That order also requires all growers to maintain a sanitary, bio-secure premise.

To maintain a sanitary, bio-secure premise, each grower shall, at a minimum:

Restrict access to poultry by posting a sign stating “Restricted Access,” securing the area with a gate, or both.

  • Take steps to ensure that contaminated materials on the ground are not transported into the poultry growing house or area.
  • Provide the following items to anyone entering or leaving any area where poultry are kept:
  • Footbaths and foot mats with disinfectant;
  • Boot washing and disinfectant station;
  • Footwear change or foot covers.
  • Cover and secure feed to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing it.
  • Cover and properly contain poultry carcasses, used litter, or other disease-containing organic materials to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing them and to keep them from being blown around by wind.
  • Allow MDA to enter the premises during normal working hours to inspect your biosecurity and sanitation practices.

All growers and others interested in HPAI are strongly encouraged to read up about HPAI and biosecurity measures on the MDA website.

To date, the HPAI strains that have been found in the United States have not been detected in humans; however, similar viruses have infected humans in other countries. While the risk of human infection is very low, people in direct contact with known infected or possibly infected birds should take precautions to protect against infection.  This includes wearing appropriate protective equipment when exposures could occur and maintaining good hygiene. These recommendations can be reviewed here. In general, everyone 6 months old and older should get the yearly flu vaccine; this can prevent someone exposed to HPAI being infected by multiple influenza viruses.

While there is no evidence that people can acquire HPAI by eating poultry products, all poultry identified with HPAI are destroyed and prohibited by law from entering the marketplace.  As a general reminder, all poultry and eggs should be handled properly and cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165° F.

For more information visit the CDC website.