Julie Helm, poultry specialist veterinarian for Clemson Livestock-Poultry Health, assists employees of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in biosecurity exercizes.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON — Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health (LPH) has compiled an online resource that puts all the necessary information for confronting a potential avian influenza outbreak at South Carolinians’ fingertips.

The site publishes telephone hotlines and online forms for reporting sick or dead poultry or waterfowl. It details the state plan for controlling and eliminating the disease if an outbreak should occur and lists basic information on the disease and suggestions for protecting commercial flocks or backyard birds.

“Education and awareness are essential in helping us provide a rapid and effective response should the disease be discovered here,” said Boyd Parr, state veterinarian and LPH director. “It’s important for poultry owners to know the signs and symptoms of disease to catch an outbreak quickly.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that the 2015 outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the West and Midwest was the most costly and significant animal disease incident in U.S. history.

The annual migration of waterfowl along the Atlantic flyway — which passes directly through South Carolina — is a potential source of infection to domestic poultry. While not currently a threat to people, HPAI it is lethal to poultry.

There are more than 800 commercial poultry farms with more than 3,350 active houses in South Carolina. Poultry annually generates more than $12 billion — more than a quarter of the total economic impact of the state’s agribusinesses — making the HPAI threat a significant one.

Julie Helm, LPH poultry specialist veterinarian, said proper biosecurity training can prepare people who work in and around poultry to help prevent the disease’s spread.

“The virus can hitchhike on such things as tires, equipment and supplies, so it’s important for poultry owners to keep their facilities, including water and feeders, clean,” Helm said. “Owners need to be careful to keep their flocks, including domesticated ducks and geese, separated from wild waterfowl and from lakes, ponds and swampy areas that wild waterfowl may use.”

The Clemson Veterinary Diagnostic Center in Columbia tests for influenza in poultry. Commercial and non-commercial poultry flocks are routinely monitored for influenza. The state’s voluntary cooperative control plan includes education, monitoring, reporting and response.

“It’s a very collaborative effort. Clemson Livestock Poultry Health continues to work together with the poultry industry and other state and federal agencies to prepare for and respond to the threat,” Parr said. “We’re grateful to have the cooperation of South Carolinians in every facet of the industry.”