PROVIDENCE - The Department of Environmental Management is requesting all poultry owners to assist in preparations for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Although the disease has not been found in Rhode Island, DEM is taking steps now to control HPAI should it spread to the Ocean State.
The US Department of Agriculture considers HPAI to be among the worst animal disease outbreaks in American history. Currently, HPAI has been found in 21 Western and Midwestern states. As of August 5, 2015, there have been 232 affected premises in those states. Nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys have died as a result of infection or control measures to stop the spread of this disease. Thankfully this strain of HPAI has not been reported to affect people, but public health officials continue to pay close attention to note any changes in that pattern and continue to prohibit the introduction of infected poultry products into the food chain.
DEM is preparing for the occurrence of HPAI and taking necessary measures so that it can best respond if the disease is detected in the state. As part of these preparations the Department is reaching out to all poultry owners, including commercial as well as backyard or hobby breeders, and asking them to voluntarily notify DEM of the location of their poultry and the approximate number and type of birds they possess.
DEM has developed an HPAI response plan which is posted on DEM's website at www.dem.ri.gov/topics/erp/6_9_ai.pdf. Were HPAI to show up in Rhode Island, the response plan calls for several measures to be put into place immediately in order to protect public health and animal health. A control zone around any premises that has infected poultry would be rapidly established in order to stop the spread of the virus. Once such a zone is established, movement restrictions for poultry and poultry products within the zone and disease surveillance for all susceptible poultry within the zone will be put into place. The control zone and all movement restrictions will be removed once testing of the infected premises and surveillance testing of animals indicates that there is no virus present in the zone.
The sooner DEM can identify the location of poultry within a control zone, the sooner the surveillance testing can take place and the sooner the control zone can be released if all testing is found to be negative. That is why the information from poultry owners about the location and number of birds they have is so important. DEM reminds poultry owners that this initiative is a voluntary disease preparedness effort and not part of any regulatory process. DEM will not disseminate any personal information about poultry owners or use it in any manner other than for disease response.
Poultry owners are asked to download a form from the DEM website that will capture all of the necessary information. The form is available at www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/agricult/pdf/hpai_readiness.pdf. Completed forms should be emailed to the RI State Veterinarian at email@example.com or mailed to Scott Marshall, DVM, RI State Veterinarian, c/o RI DEM/Division of Agriculture, 235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI, 02908.
DEM urges poultry owners to take simple, precautionary steps now to protect their poultry. These biosecurity precautions can be viewed at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/downloads/animal_diseases/ai/HPAIchecklist.pdf (more appropriate for commercial operations) and http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov/ (which is general information tailored more to hobbyists and non-commercial poultry owners).