Bird flu has impact across Ohio

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has canceled live bird exhibits at county and independent fairs, including  the Ohio State Fair, because of a growing avian influenza outbreak that has affected 48 million birds in more than 15 states.

The flu outbreak, designated as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5, is an extremely contagious virus that  primarily affects domestic poultry and is believed to be spread by migrating birds, the ODA stated in a news release. The ban includes other bird gatherings, sales, auctions, and swap meets. 

"This was a difficult decision because it means young people can't show their birds at fairs," said ODA Director David T. Daniels in a June 2 announcement. "But it's in the best interest of an industry that literally thousands of Ohio families and businesses depend on and which provides billions of dollars to our state's economy."

The ODA is working with fair boards to amend deadlines so youth can switch projects and allow the use of props or photos instead of live birds. 

The ODA is also coordinating with Ohio State University Extension to send out guidance to fair boards and 4-H committees urging them to find a solution that will allow young people to have a fair experience, even if they can not bring their project to the fairground, Daniels said. OSU Extension supervises 4-H programs.

"We are committed to providing 4-H youth with a positive learning experience about poultry and believe that can be achieved without live animals being present," said Bruce McPheron, vice president for agricultural administration and dean of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University. Across the state, 9,113 4-H youth take poultry-related projects.

While Ohio 4-H youth will not be showing live birds, "they will be learning about how a disease can affect an animal and an industry," said Tom Archer, 4-H leader for OSU Extension. "We will provide other creative ways for our members to show what they have learned about poultry at our county and state fairs."

Ohio is free of HPAI H5, according to the ODA.  Ohio neighboring states of Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan have also canceled live poultry shows during the 2015 fair season, according to the ODA.  Only Indiana has had a flock test positive for HPAI H5.
 
"One of the ways avian influenza spreads is by direct contact with contaminated materials coming from other infected birds," said Dr. Tony Forshey, state veterinarian, in a news release. "Until we can be sure that there has been no transference from the wild bird population migrating through the state, we need to do all we can to minimize the exposure for our domestic birds." 

Forshey has urged commercial producers and backyard enthusiasts to prevent their birds from contacting wild birds, keep the birds inside as much as possible, and report sick or unusual bird deaths to veterinarians as soon as possible.

To date the United State Department of Agriculture reports outbreaks of H5 avian flu in 21 states (15 states affecting domestic poultry or captive birds and six states with H5 flu in wild birds). 

Iowa appears to be the hardest hit state by H5 flu, with 31 million birds; the latest detection recorded on June 17. Iowa is located in the Mississippi Flyway for migratory birds.

The risk to human infection from H5 bird flu is considered low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

No human cases have been recorded in the U.S., Canada, or intenationally, according to the CDC.

Ohio is the nation's second-largest producer of eggs and home to 28 million laying chickens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million pullets and 2 million turkeys, according to ODA statistics. 

Ohio's egg, chicken, and turkey farms generate an estimated $2.3 billion to the state economy.

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