CHARDON, Ohio — Experts and farmers are keeping an eye out for avian influenza, as cases continue to spread across the globe and throughout the U.S.
Nature Center at Shaker Lakes posted on their Facebook page that geese and other birds recently reported dead were confirmed to have been infected with bird flu by ODNR.
The Akron Zoo also posted on their Facebook page that many of their birds have been moved indoors or into a protected habitat to protect them from avian influenza.
“This particular strain of what’s called the H5N1 is one that’s really showing a lot of impact within backyard flocks and commercial poultry operations across the U.S. and in other countries as well,” said Dr. Dennis Summers, state veterinarian for Ohio.
Dr. Summers said that the avian influenza can spread through migrating wild birds, whose droppings can come into contact with poultry, farm raised or domestic birds. For free range birds, there’s also a risk of coming into contact with infected wild birds if they were to land nearby. Oftentimes waterfowl are the birds most commonly carrying the virus.
“This one, this year seems to be more impactful because it’s definitely aggressively moving across the globe and a lot of detections here in the U.S.,” he said.
Laurie Brown, wildlife research technician with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said that cases have already been reported in Ohio, including Northeast Ohio. She said in Cuyahoga County, there have been an estimated 75 wild birds who have died from bird flu.
“It’s not only a concern here in Ohio but in other states right now. Avian influenza, they’re categorized by the severity of symptoms they cause in chickens. They can vary from low pathogenic avian influenza viruses, which actually don’t cause illness in poultry and they’re common in wild birds around the world,” she said. “Then we also have highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, such as what we’re dealing with now here in Ohio, which is H5N1, and it often causes death in poultry.”
According to Jim Chakeres, executive vice president at the Ohio Poultry Association, cases have been detected in 24 states. In Ohio, he said there has been one case in a domestic backyard flock located in Central Ohio.
Chakeres and Dr. Summers both recommended that farmers, including backyard chicken farmers, take their birds inside to protect them and limit traffic on farms.
When it comes to the possibility of rising egg prices, both said that a number of factors, including supply chain issues, increased costs for things like cartons and labor, in addition to a rise in demand in eggs around Easter could contribute to higher egg prices.
Lisa Marie Samples, founder and farmer at Cedar Crest Farm and Feed in Geauga County, is taking precautions to protect her chickens. For example, when entering coops, farm staff must disinfect their shoes using a specific wash, and she also doesn’t allow anyone except staff to handle chickens. She also participates in voluntary testing of her flock to make sure her birds are safe, which she said is part of the National Poultry Improvement Plan.
“It’s here, we’re aware of it, and there are things we are doing to take precautions for biosecurity,” she said.
Samples also encouraged people to support their local farmers.
“Another good reason to buy from the local farms, because we’re not as impacted with prices, we can still continue to do our things with eggs and meat," she said. "And we have a little bit more control as well, not having the big poultry houses, over how our birds eat and where they eat and where they’re grazing.”