• 7.2.2024
  • Education

Principles Of Performance – Avian Influenza

The Next Great Disease Challenge

In the wake of what was a tremendous BFREPA Conference this column starts a little differently before discussing bird health. The Free Range Farming community continues to go from strength to strength, with a superb turnout and a venue that worked very well. The very nature of commercial egg production is that of entrepreneurial endeavour and seeing the level of enthusiasm to learn and improve amongst everyone present was great to see. So much of what is gained from these events is the chance for those in the industry to talk with fellow egg producers and discuss what is working well. 

While I was there I felt very honoured to be asked to present on the subject of vaccination for Avian Influenza, alongside Ian Lowery and Gordon Hickman who provided the veterinary and governance perspectives. When looking at this subject it is highly emotive, as this disease can be ruinous to a farm, and an area that’s not talked about enough is emotional impact it has to see the birds that are cared for be afflicted not only by the disease but by the culling required to control it. 

Our role in the Veterinary and Vaccine Industry is to protect bird health. Disease challenges have come every decade, from Gumboro, to Infectious Bronchitis Variants, and most impactfully in the case of Salmonella. The impact of that challenge devastated the industry, but also due to the way we reacted to the challenge, led to the UK leading the Western World in the egg safety from that disease. Now we face another great obstacle, a virus which is highly prone to mutation (antigenic drift) which makes the production of a commercially viable vaccine difficult to implement. The challenge lies in several areas, firstly, if we were to vaccinate every chick that came out of the hatchery today onwards, it would be mid 2025 before the UK laying flock was vaccinated. The challenge of that lies in the emergence of new strains. 

In Biddinghuizen on 24th of July a laying farm was infected with a mutation of the virus that contained 3 pieces of the H13 gull virus. The danger in starting the vaccination program is that we could be in a situation where we have laying hen that is in the laying house throughout two AI seasons, and during that time we may have new or mutated strains which the rearing vaccines have not been tested against. It is my firm conviction that we shall overcome Avian Influenza, however, much like Salmonella, the vaccine will play a part, alongside continually evolving biosecurity, which this disease is forcing the evolution of. This disease is not beyond our control, all great steps forward in our industries history have been made using science, a team effort and hard work. 

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