Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ewww... You're Gonna Get Bird FLU!

I have heard this line so many times. My response?

"if I was gonna get bird flu, I woulda had it a LONG time ago!"

Its probably true. My parents got their first chickens about 19 years ago, and Ive been playing with chickens (and ducks, turkeys, quail, parakeets, finches, pigeons, pheasants, chukkars, parrots, you name it) ever since. 

Which makes me a little weird. (How many 18 year old girls have you met who have 10 cage birds in their bedroom, 2 incubators in their closet and around 70 chickens and other fowl outside? Well, that was me.) Heck, the vet just called me his "favorite crazy chicken lady".

But the point of this wasn't about how weird I am. You'll figure that out soon enough. Its that I really don't have to worry about getting bird flu.

For one thing, there have been no human cases of the notorious H5N1 avian ("bird") flu in the United States.  For another, we have a LOT of protocol ensuring our safety. 

All birds brought into this country have to be quarantined and tested before they can go on to wherever they are going. But thats not all! The reason the vet (and not "just" the local vet, this is a vet from the state Dept of Agriculture) was here today is that we are going to attend an out of state show next week and to cross state lines, our birds have to be tested for Avian Flu and Pullorum/Typhoid. This is the case for all poultry, even the big semi loads that come into the state to be processed.

Positive cases are extremely rare, especially in small flocks like ours, presumably because they are under less stress and we see each bird more so we would catch a problem early. But testing helps too because positive birds are tested further to confirm and then culled, thus cutting down on the spread of the disease. Pullorum/Typhoid, two forms of Salmonella, have been almost eliminated through the National Poultry Improvement Plan, or the NPIP. 

The people who test for P/T are frequently Field Testers, people, like me, who have gone to a class and gotten certified to test for the disease for the state. You take a very small sample of blood by pricking the big vein that runs along the underside of the wing, (which is harder than it sounds) and mix a drop of blood with a drop of a special kind of antigen on a tile. If the bird was to have P/T, spots would show up in the mixture. (You would then have to contact the state vet and they would quarantine the birds and do more testing - I haven't had this happen.) Then you fill out the paperwork and the bird owner can show or ship their birds.

For Avian Flu, in Virginia, a veterinarian has to test. They simply open the bird's beak (again, sometimes easier said than done!) and swab the bird's throat with a cotton swab. The swabs are then put into a solution and when they get back to the lab the solution is tested. After all the samples are tested and found negative they print off the results and they mail you a form to take with you to the show.

Granted, birds still slip through the system. A lot of birds wind up untested at swaps, although the vets have done a good job of coming to test at least a sample of the birds being sold. There's a lot of people who don't like their birds being tested, because I suppose they feel its an invasion of privacy. But its a good thing to get your birds tested, because eventually, hopefully, it will make this all a lot safer for all of us.

And all my friends who think chickens are weird (which is a lot, and you know who you are) will quit saying

"You're gonna get BIRD FLU!"

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