chicken poultry

Pennsylvania officials are reminding farms to only have trained people collect samples for avian influenza testing.

Submissions that are collected improperly create hassles for a veterinary lab system that is processing a high volume of samples right now, State Veterinarian Kevin Brightbill said in a Monday industry call.

The swabs — which must come from the proper part of a bird, in a certain quantity, using the right technique — should be collected either by a certified poultry technician, who is licensed by a standing state program, or an HPAI sampler, who is approved by the state to collect samples only during this outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“We have full confidence in those individuals that are farm employees to collect those samples and submit those samples in an appropriate manner,” Brightbill said.

Testing is key to identifying new avian influenza infections, allowing the movement of healthy birds, and helping the industry get back to normal.

Swabs taken by untrained samplers may fall short of the testing criteria. Or they could be improperly sealed, causing leaks that risk contaminating other samples, Brightbill said.

The certified sampler must be the person who handles the collection and packing of the sample. A farm owner who lacks the training should not gather the samples and ask the certified person to sign off.

“That is a violation of Pennsylvania law, and it puts the CPT in a very bad situation,” Brightbill said.

Farms that do not have a certified poultry technician or HPAI sampler should contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture promptly to get someone trained. The agency has been doing a lot of training for these temporary samplers, Brightbill said.

The training is typically done via virtual meeting, but hard-copy materials are available for those without internet.

The state’s veterinary lab system has been hard at work during the outbreak, testing an average of 300 samples per day, with some days up to 400 or 500. Pennsylvania’s vet labs are running about one-tenth of the nation’s avian influenza tests, said Deep Tewari, director of the state-owned Pennsylvania Veterinary Lab.

Penn State and the University of Pennsylvania operate the other labs in the system.

Control Area Updates

Control areas surrounding two of the infected Lancaster County farms are scheduled to be lifted on May 12 and 19.

These control areas overlap with others from nearby infected sites, so farms in the area may not see any changes in testing requirements, said Chrislyn Wood Nicholson, a USDA poultry veterinary specialist.

The control area for Lancaster 6, the infected farm that lies south of the cluster in northern Lancaster County, is scheduled for release on May 18. That change will likely release some farms from specialized testing requirements, Wood Nicholson said.

Control area release is contingent on negative test results from the commercial farms in the zone.

Pennsylvania continues to allow poultry auctions to operate, but state and USDA personnel are screening all birds by their address of origin.

People who attempt to consign birds from quarantined areas will receive a notice of violation and be told to leave. Second-time violators will be cited, receive a monetary penalty, and be sent home, Brightbill said.

This week’s warm, sunny weather should help to deactivate virus particles in the environment, but high risk will remain for several weeks, Brightbill said.

Pennsylvania remains far below the 17 million birds lost in the 1983-1984 outbreak, with an industry that is far larger than it was 40 years ago.

“We are doing, in my opinion, an exceptional job, but we’re only getting it done because you all are doing what we need you all to do,” Brightbill told industry members.

In Pennsylvania, sick or dead captive birds, whether commercial or backyard fowl, should be reported to the Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852.

Sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 717-787-4250.

Lancaster Farming offers a printable one-page handout with biosecurity recommendations, avian influenza symptoms and numbers to call for reporting a suspected outbreak. Find it at bit.ly/protectyourflock.

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