AUBURN — At first thought, the connection between the poultry industry and the COVID-19 outbreak may seem small or insignificant. While COVID-19 does not affect chickens, an Alabama Extension poultry scientist said there is a lot to learn from the poultry industry when it comes to controlling the rapid spread of disease — or biosecurity.
Biosecurity is importantKen Macklin, who is also a professor in the poultry science department at Auburn University, said like humans, poultry can also contract exotic diseases — such as Newcastle disease (VVND) or avian influenza. Like COVID-19, avian influenza spreads rapidly.
“Multiple outbreaks of avian influenza have occurred in the U.S., with the most recent outbreak in early 2020,” Macklin said. “That outbreak was well-contained and didn’t spread.”
While the industry well-contained the 2020 outbreak, an avian influenza outbreak in 2014-2015 severely affected the egg and turkey industry. Macklin said there were several factors that contributed to the nearly unchecked spread of the 2014 — 2015 outbreak. However, the main factor — and the one pertinent to the spread of COVID-19 — was biosecurity, or a lack there of.
“Biosecurity is a set of best management practices that prevent transportation of infectious diseases to and from the farm,” Macklin said. “Everyone who comes in contact with poultry is responsible for practicing good biosecurity. Whether you have one chicken or millions of them, the basic guidelines are preparedness, prevention, response and recovery.”
Biosecurity guidelines can guide COVID-19 response
Macklin said understanding and implementing the biosecurity efforts outlined and employed by those in the poultry industry can make a lasting impact as Alabama citizens make their way back to work.
For people, he said preparedness is a mask.
“Any kind of mask is better than no mask,” he said. “Use hand sanitizer, but remember the best option is soap and water.”
Preparedness also involves a plan in case of illness. Macklin suggests identifying someone to call for help if there are not immediate family members nearby.
Prevention is another aspect of biosecurity and responsibility.
“This is simply reducing the risk of getting sick,” Macklin said. “Aside from using a mask, there are several other steps individuals can take to reduce the spread or chance of catching the virus because you may be an asymptomatic carrier — someone who carries the disease but shows no symptoms.”
Macklin offers these other tips:
» Wash hands with soap and water or use a convenient alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
» Use a wipe to sanitize all packages. Any sanitizer that will kill microbes will work.
» Remove packaging and envelopes outside and immediately discard them in the garbage or recycle them.
» Avoid people. This sounds easy but often isn’t. When heading out for groceries or a walk, be aware of those around you. If individuals appear sick, stand farther away than the recommended six feet. Even those who do not appear ill may be asymptomatic carriers.
» If an individual suspects illness, schedule testing.
» 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,” he said. “This is important in protecting others and in slowing the spread of the virus.”
Once well, Macklin suggests reviewing steps in the preparedness, prevention and response stages. Making changes as needed is part of the recovery process.
Poultry in Relation to COVID-19
How can the poultry industry’s biosecurity protocols help stop the rapid spread of COVID-19?
The 2014-2015 avian influenza outbreak affected more than 200 poultry producers and led to the demise of more than 50 million birds. Macklin said a key cause in that outbreak was the lack of proper biosecurity procedures.
“The outbreak is likely to still have happened, even if biosecurity protocols had been followed,” Macklin said. “Identification and containment would have been possible earlier if proper biosecurity procedures were in place.”
He said evidence of biosecurity procedures in action is evident in the 2020 avian influenza outbreak. During this outbreak only a couple of farms had avian influenza cases. The 2020 outbreak affected many birds, but still less than the number that died in the 2014-15 outbreak.