What does raising poultry have in common with coronavirus? Your first thought may be nothing. One involves farm animals and the other is an exotic disease affecting populations across the globe.
Poultry can also catch exotic diseases, such as the aptly named Newcastle disease (VVND). A more commonly known disease in poultry is avian influenza, which, like COVID-19, spreads rapidly. Multiple outbreaks of this disease have occurred in the United States with the most recent in early 2020. That outbreak was well contained and didn’t spread.
Another outbreak of avian influenza in 2014–2015 severely affected the egg and turkey industry. Why did it spread, almost unchecked, when the outbreak in 2020 did not? Several factors are involved, but the main one—and the one pertinent to the current situation—is biosecurity.
What is biosecurity? It is a set of best management practices that prevent infectious disease from being carried to or off the farm. Who is responsible for practicing good biosecurity? Everyone who has or comes in contact with poultry. It doesn’t matter if you have one chicken or millions. The basic guidelines are preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery. How can these guidelines help during the COVID-19 pandemic?
For people, it is a mask—any kind is better than no mask. Use sanitizer but remember that the best option is soap and water. Preparedness also involves having a plan if you do get coronavirus. Have you identified someone you can call for help if you don’t have immediate family members nearby? Have you discussed it with that person?
Prevention is simply reducing the risk of getting sick, and this is an individual’s responsibility. First, use a mask to reduce the spread or chance of catching this virus. You may be an asymptomatic carrier, someone who carries the disease but shows no symptoms. Also wash your hands with soap and water or use a convenient alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Packages delivered to your house or picked up by you should be wiped off with sanitizer. Any sanitizer that will kill microbes will work. Remove packaging and envelopes outside and immediately discard in the garbage or recycle them.
Avoiding people sounds easy but often isn’t. With pleasant weather and quarantine orders for weeks, people are anxious to get out of the house. If you go out for groceries, a walk, or anything else, be aware of those around you and practice social distancing. Notice the people around you, and if they look sick, stand a little farther away than the recommended 6 feet. Even people who don’t appear to be ill may be asymptomatic carriers, so maintain a distance of 6 feet. If you think you are sick, get tested. Some may be apprehensive about getting tested for fear of being exposed to the virus at the testing site, but this is when to trust the medical staff and their sanitation protocols. Those in an at-risk group (the elderly and those who are asthmatic, have heart disease or diabetes, or are otherwise immunocompromised) should be extra cautious and carefully follow the suggested guidelines.
If you do become sick with COVID-19, notify everyone with whom you have come in contact. This is important in protecting them and in slowing the spread of the virus. Once recovered, review what you have done in preparedness, prevention, and response. Make changes as needed. This process is part of recovery.
How does this relate to poultry? The 2014–2015 avian influenza outbreak affected more than 200 poultry producers and led to the death of more than 50 million birds. A key cause in that outbreak was the lack of proper biosecurity procedures. Would it still have happened if biosecurity had been followed? Probably. Would it have been better contained or identified earlier if good biosecurity practices had been followed? Definitely, yes. Evidence of biosecurity working is seen in the 2020 avian influenza outbreak when only a couple of farms were involved. That outbreak affected many birds, but it was still a lot less than what happened in 2014-15.