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Information addresses future bird flu outbreaks
PEARL, Miss. -- Representatives from the Mississippi poultry industry and state agencies realize that information is key in bird flu preparation, response and recovery if the foreign virus lands in the state this winter.
Dr. Brigid Elchos, deputy state veterinarian for the Mississippi Board of Animal Health, invited communication officers who may be involved in a bird flu outbreak to meet at the Pearl office of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on Sept. 11.
“We want to establish strong relationships now and have information ready if an outbreak occurs,” she said. “Our goal is to get everyone on the same page and to understand the importance of focusing on key messages.”
In addition to MEMA and the Board of Animal Health, participants in the meeting represented Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Mississippi State Department of Health, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Mississippi Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Poultry Association, Cal-Maine Foods, Sanderson Farms, Peco Foods, Mar-Jac Poultry and Wayne Farms.
Dr. Ken Angel of the USDA assisted in the response to bird flu outbreaks last spring in the Northwest and Midwest.
“We found that whenever public information officers were effectively getting news out, the public was more willing to cooperate with the response,” Angel said.
Angel explained how Mississippi should fare better because an ample warning time has allowed the poultry industry to prepare for a possible outbreak. Migrating water fowl would be the most likely sources of a Mississippi outbreak.
“There is no way to know when or even if an outbreak will occur. If one occurs, it could be as early as November or December or as late as next spring during the return migration,” he said.
Mark Leggett, president of the Mississippi Poultry Association, said he was pleased to have the companies and agencies coming together before bird flu is an issue in the state.
“It is going to take a coordinated effort if avian influenza hits Mississippi,” Leggett said. “We want to be prepared to minimize the damage to the state’s No. 1 agricultural commodity.”
Greg Walker, director of human resources for Mar-Jac Poultry, said he was glad to have the opportunity to learn more about this potential hazard to the industry.
“We want protections in place to prepare for the worst but hope for the best,” Walker said. “We are getting as much information as we can to help prevent or prepare for an outbreak.”
Tom Tabler, a poultry specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said he and other officials are working with companies and backyard flock owners to encourage maximum biosecurity efforts.
“This industry was already taking biosecurity very seriously, but an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza is an unprecedented event,” Tabler said. “Mississippi growers will do all in their power to prevent an outbreak.”