Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak finally reaches Alaska

After watching the 2022 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak spread across the country in recent months, it’s finally reached Alaska.

The first case was detected in a non-commercial backyard flock in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in late April. It was likely brought in by migratory birds, according to Alaska State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach.

The attached chart includes a variety of tasks for people raising chickens, ducks, and other fowl, and for birders who may see suspicious things happening to wild bird flocks. Please report any suspected cases to your veterinarian or Dr. Gerlach at 907-375-8215.

What you need to know about the 2022 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) has confirmed the presence of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in commercial and backyard birds in numerous states.

HPAI can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl). With the recent detections of HPAI in wild birds and domestic poultry in the United States, bird owners should review their biosecurity practices and stay alert to protect poultry and pet birds from this disease. Non-bird owners should also know the signs and symptoms of this disease for situational awareness and to help with the ongoing surveillance efforts.

The clinical signs of birds with Avian Influenza include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Decreased water consumption up to 72 hours before other clinical signs
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Decreased egg production
  • Soft–shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing, sneezing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea

Both domestic and wild birds can be infected and show no signs of illness. Wild birds can carry the disease to new areas when migrating, potentially exposing domestic poultry to the virus. The following bio-safety guidelines are effective methods for safeguarding commercial operations, smaller flocks, and pet birds:

  • Backyard flock owners should practice strict biosecurity, including preventing birds from exposure and/or co-mingling with wild birds and other types of poultry.
  • Shower, change clothes, and clean and disinfect footwear before entering your poultry housing areas.
  • Respiratory protection such as a medical facemask, would also be important and remember to always wear clean clothes when encountering healthy domestic birds.
  • Carefully follow safe entry and exit procedures into your flock’s clean area.
  • Reduce the attractiveness for wild birds to stop at your place by cleaning up litter and spilled feed around poultry housing areas.
  • If you have free range guinea fowl and waterfowl, consider bringing them into coops or flight pens under nets to prevent interaction of domesticated poultry with wild birds and their droppings.
  • It is best to restrict visitors from interacting with your birds currently.
  • Do not touch sick or dead wildlife and keep them away from domestic poultry
  • Try not to handle sick or deceased domestic birds (if you must, use proper personal protective equipment to minimize direct contact and cautiously disinfect anything that comes into contact with the deceased and or sick bird).

The United States has the strongest Avian Influenza surveillance program in the world, where we actively look for the disease and provide fair market value compensation to affected producers to encourage reporting. Positive domestic cases are handled by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and its partners. Sick or deceased domestic birds should be reported to your local veterinarian. Sick or deceased domestic birds should be reported to your local veterinarian.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this strain of Avian Influenza is a low risk to the public. While the transmission rate from animals to humans is low, it is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be shared between species.

• Local foods a topic of several Alaska news stories over the past week or so

This has been an interesting couple of weeks, with food security being discussed at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, subsistence rights and responsibilities in the news and other stories highlighting the local foods market in Alaska.

The Alaska Public Radio Network ran a story about food security being a hot topic at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. One element of the discussion was a report from former state Sen. Kim Elton, now is the Interior Department’s senior advisor for Alaska Affairs, who said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plans to upgrade subsistence management for the coming decades.

The Alaska Public Radio Network also ran a story (from KRBD-FM in Ketchikan) about an invasive plant species conference in Ketchikan and how to prevent the spread of noxious and invasive plants in Alaska.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ran an article about how food grown in gardens on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus is finding its way onto the plates of UAF students at the Lola Tilly Commons.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce had an article about how wild plant seeds from Alaska are being stored at the Kew Gardens Millennium Seed Bank (aka the Royal Botanical Gardens) southwest of London.

The Alaska Journal of Commerce also had an article about Anchorage chef Robert Kineen of Orso Ristorante and how he is incorporating more local foods into his menus.

This week’s issue of the Alaska Journal of Commerce also has several articles about various fisheries, from whitefish to salmon to crab. Included in the issue is an article about how wild-caught Alaska salmon and Pacific cod made the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s recent listing of “super green” seafoods because of their health benefits, the sustainable ways the fish are harvested and lack of contamination. Here is a link to the full list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Consumer’s Guide to Sustainable Seafood.

Former Anchorage Daily News Outdoors Editor Craig Medred, who now writes for the Alaska Dispatch Web site, wrote this column about how some hunters have lost their connection to the culture of hunting.

The Alaska Dispatch also had an article about tough times at the Triple D Farm and Hatchery in Palmer. The turkey farm was made infamous during a KTUU-TV interview of then-Gov. Sarah Palin video last year, when she was pardoning a turkey as a worker in the background was butchering other turkeys (a link to the video is with the story).

The Anchorage Daily News also ran an obituary for Lawrence Clark, 94, aka “The Apple Man,” who was one of the leading apple tree growers in the Anchorage area and a member of the Alaska Pioneer’s Fruit Growers Association. Clark also was able to grow apricots on his land in the Rabbit Creek area south of Anchorage.

The Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market blog posted this essay about sustainable agriculture in Alaska from Mike Emers, the owner of Rosie Creek Farm in the Fairbanks bedroom community of Ester (Rosie Creek Farm is the northernmost certified organic farm in the country). Emers writes about how he wouldn’t have imagined his life’s direction 10-20 years ago, and how becoming a farmer is such a departure for someone who comes from a long line of Jewish tailors. By the way, while you’re done reading Emers’ essay, check out the rest of the Fairbanks Community Cooperative Market site. This is a project to build a market specializing in local foods for the Fairbanks area.

Finally, here is an article from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service about whether or not there are regions in the country that have lost their ability to feed themselves. The article focuses on a county-by-county study in the northeast part of the U.S. about what local foods currently are available, but it sounds like similar studies are taking place across the country.