Equipment sharing leaves farms vulnerable to bird flu, USDA finds

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, July 26, 2015 - A USDA analysis has determined that the common practice among poultry farms of sharing equipment such as feed trucks and live haul loaders makes farms more vulnerable to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

“While equipment sharing makes economic and logistical sense, it also increases the risk of lateral spread of HPAI between farms,” according to an updated epidemiological study aimed at identifying how the deadly disease spread so quickly in the U.S. this spring and summer, eventually resulting in the death of more than 48 million birds, mostly chickens and turkeys.

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As with an earlier study released in June, the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said there is not enough evidence to point to a specific pathway or pathways for the deadliest outbreak of HPAI in U.S. history. The outbreak began on the West Coast in December and eventually spread to 15 states before slowing with the advent of warmer summer weather. The last reported detection of the virus, which does not spread easily in hot weather, was June 17.

Another possible route of disease transmission is by wild birds, which appear to be little affected by the virus. In one study, wild birds were observed inside 35 percent of the farms under observation, with the frequency ranging from daily to occasionally. Officials fear that infections could resume this fall with the return of cooler weather and as wild bird begin migrating south.

The poultry industry is meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to look at what they've learned from the recent outbreak and to prepare for potential future exposures. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to address the conference on Tuesday. Additionally, a House Agriculture subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on Thursday to examine the federal and state response to the outbreak.

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