Watch our interview with State Deputy Veterinarian Christie Hammons about the avian flu outlook in Idaho. | Photo courtesy Idaho State Department of Agriculture
IDAHO FALLS – A strain of avian flu continues to have an impact on soaring egg prices nationwide, and the first confirmed case detected in domestic birds in Bingham County last week creates an added sense of urgency in eastern Idaho.
Christie Hammons, the deputy veterinarian for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, tells EastIdahoNews.com there have been 30 cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Idaho since last spring when the outbreak began.
RELATED | Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza confirmed in Bingham County
While there have been strains of avian influenza in the past, this strain has been particularly long-lasting. The reason for that is unclear.
“It’s hard to say (why this strain has been particularly bad),” Hammons says. “There are a lot of different evolutionary components that viruses take up to be able to spread … and be a more successful organism.”
The virus spreads primarily through bird droppings and mucus, says Hammons, which poses a threat to birds grazing in the same area.
Sudden death is one of the most recognizable symptoms farmers can watch for. In larger flocks where producers are really attentive to the amount of feed and water that’s consumed, Hammons says farmers are seeing decreased appetite, lethargy, changes in breathing and difficulty in walking and wattles.
Wild waterfowl like ducks and geese are most at risk to exposure. Just like COVID-19 or any other virus, Hammons says isolation is the key to preventing the virus from spreading.
“Penning them up and keeping them in a more cooped area, having some overhead restriction so that there’s no incoming organic matter from wild birds definitely helps,” she says.
She recommends bird owners practice good hygiene after being around them. Wash your hands and avoid handling other people’s flocks or sharing tools. Have clothes and a pair of shoes dedicated to working around the birds and changing them when you’re done is also important, Hammons says.
Hammons has been heavily involved in watching local bird populations and educating people about preventative measures over the last several months. There are a lot of unknown variables with the virus and she says raising awareness about it is one of the few things they can do to protect local flocks.
Those with specific concerns can reach out and the department will work with them to determine specific ways to protect their flock.
Dec. 2022 file photo
While the department hasn’t been testing eggs, Hammons explains there are multiple methods that can be used, as needed. One is a swab sample and the other is a PCR test, which analyzes genetic components to see if the virus is present.
“With food — eggs and meat products — it hasn’t been much of a concern. As long as people are cooking (at) USDA-recommended temperatures, it hasn’t been considered a food-born virus to people,” Hammons explains.
At this point, Hammons says they have no way of predicting how much longer the virus is going to last. They continue to research and look for answers, and they’re holding out for some good news on that front. But for now, consumers will continue to see elevated egg and meat prices at the grocery store.
RELATED | Will egg prices continue to soar?
And just because there’s a confirmed case in one part of the state doesn’t mean those on the other side of the state can breathe easy. Hammons says the right mentality is to assume that every corner of the state is affected because it is.
“Anywhere wild birds can go, there’s a possibility that (the virus) is there,” she says. “We’ve noticed a lot of positive samples from wild birds throughout the winter from all over Idaho. So it’s there … they’re carrying it. It can get into the environment, and as it warms up, it’s going to be more successful at exposing our domestic flocks.”
If you have questions or concerns, contact the Boise office at (208) 332-8540.
WATCH OUR INTERVIEW WITH HAMMONS IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.
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