Bird Flu case confirmed in Rockingham County

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:24 PM EST
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has confirmed a highly pathogenic avian influenza case in a commercial turkey flock in Rockingham County. It’s the first commercial case recorded in Virginia since a nationwide outbreak began last year.

A commercial flock of 25,000 turkeys in Rockingham County has been depopulated after they began getting sick and dying. Samples from the flock tested positive for bird flu and the affected area has been quarantined by state officials.

“The next step is to be doing a lot of increased testing all around the area in Rockingham County, looking to see if it’s in other flocks and trying to detect it early if it is,” said Dr. Charlie Broaddus, Virginia’s State Veterinarian.

VDACS is performing additional testing and surveillance of other flocks within the 10-kilometer radius around the affected flock. There will also be limits to the movement of poultry in that area.

“When you’re transporting feed or birds, there’s a lot of traffic that is going around in this area related to the poultry industry, and depending where it is it needs to be permitted by VDACS,” said Hobey Bauhan, President of the Virginia Poultry Federation.

Poultry farmers around the Valley are urged to be vigilant and practice strict biosecurity measures to protect their flocks.

“Things such as cleaning and disinfecting vehicle tires, washing hands, changing footwear, using foot baths before going into poultry farms and poultry houses,” said Dr. Broaddus.

While poultry farmers always have biosecurity measures in place the outbreak of bird flu serves as a reminder of their importance.

“The poultry industry touches so many different areas of the Shenandoah Valley. So right away you start thinking of all the potential people impacted so you realize that it’s really important to take this seriously and biosecurity is the biggest concern and it normally is anyway,” said Quentin King, a Rockingham County Poultry Farmer.

Quentin farms with his father, Dan King, who said that the case reported in Rockingham County hits home for all poultry farmers around the Valley.

“It’s always kind of a kick in the gut because our livelihood depends on being able to run birds through, and selling them to go to market. So you feel the loss of this flock because we’re all in the industry,” said Dan King. “It’s not a time to point fingers and say ‘I wonder what they did’ we’re all doing the best we can and it’s time to focus on biosecurity.”

VDACS said it is unknown how the flock became infected but that wild birds were the likely spreaders.

“There’s no smoking gun per se but certainly the presumption is that it’s very likely it was introduced somehow from wild birds. Ducks and Geese can become infected with avian influenza and they spread the virus in their droppings, so all it takes is droppings from migrating ducks or geese into the grass or area close by a poultry flock,” said Broaddus.

The Shenandoah Valley hasn’t seen a bird flu outbreak since 2002 when the disease ravaged the local economy.

“The farms that get impacted, it really ruins your day. Back in 2002, I was on that task force and I got to see firsthand some of the devastation,” said Dan King.

Fortunately, many lessons were learned in the poultry industry after the 2002 outbreak, and there are now many steps and procedures in place to prevent the spread of a potential outbreak.

“There’s a whole lot of coordination going on, a whole lot of communicating, we sent an alert out on our emergency auto telephone system. We want to make sure that people know about this,” said Bauhan. “So far we have one case in Rockingham County but it’s in a fairly dense poultry-producing area so we want to make sure farms in that proximity are aware and taking every measure possible to prevent their exposure.”

Hobey Bauhan said that if producers remain vigilant and biosecurity remains strict the spread of the disease should be mitigated.

“It’s important for flock owners to monitor the health of their birds and to report any signs of avian influenza. I think if we are diligent about all these things we can get through this and limit the spread,” he said.