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4 Facts About Chiggers You Should Know
By Jonathan Larson, Nebraska Extension

Image of chigger bites.
Image of chigger bites, on the second day after exposure. Vicki Jedlicka, Nebraska Extension.

It's beautiful outside and we are all hoping to get out there and enjoy the early summer weather! Sometimes though, we bump into problematic pests that can ruin our day. One such pest is the chigger, which is the bane of many a hiker, gardener, or just general outdoor enthusiast. Here are some quick facts to help understand and avoid this biting bother.

  1. Chiggers are just kids. The chigger that bites you isn't actually the full grown version; they are the larval stage of a predatory mite. This means that despite being arachnids, if you looked at a chigger under a microscope you would find it only has six legs.
     
  2. Chiggers love the great outdoors. You can encounter chiggers in many different types of places, but their preferred habitat is a nice, damp, low lying area. You may encounter them areas with only turf but are more likely to meet them in areas of tall grass with weeds as well. If you are visiting wooded areas or stumble into a bramble patch, don't be surprised if you find some chiggers too.
     
  3. No need for that nail polish. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not take up residence under your skin or feed on blood. When you brush up against a plant they are hanging out on they will latch onto you. After this they insert a long straw (called a stylostoma) into your body. They will then inject enzymes into you that will melt bits of your skin and they slurp up the juices like a milkshake. These enzymes are responsible for the intense itching we have after the bite.
     
  4. Gross! I don't want that. To prevent bites you should wear full length pants and shirts when you can. If you don't want to be warm, you can also wear protective products such as DEET to repel chiggers from your body. Finally, when picnicking or watching fireworks, lay a blanket down to sit upon and try to avoid sitting directly on turfgrass. If you find that you have recurring chigger issues on your property, treating your yard or just the infested area with an insecticide containing bifenthrin will help to eliminate their populations.

If you ever want to know any more about chiggers here are some helpful links:

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5 Things to Consider To Avoid Herbicide Drift
By Emilee Dorn, Nebraska Extension Assistant in Pesticide Safety Education

Image of herbicide damage on mulberry.
Image of herbicide damage on mulberry.

Herbicides can cause serious injury to plants when applied improperly or when non-target drift occurs. Here are five things to consider when applying herbicides to your acreage this year:

  1. Types of Drift. Drift occurs in two ways, particle or vapor. Particle drift occurs when small spray droplets travel long distances during periods of high wind and blow droplets from the targeted site. To avoid this, use larger spray droplets with low pressure, and apply herbicides only when wind speed is low. Vapor drift occurs when products volatilize or evaporate and move off the application site. The volatility of some products increases as temperatures rise into the upper 80s and 90s. The product label will provide information on when it's not safe to apply the product based on certain temperatures. The highest potential of drift is when it's hot and dry. For more detailed information on types of drift view Nebguide 1773, Spray Drift of Pesticides.
     
  2. Nozzle Selection. The nozzle directly affects the size of the spray droplet. The pesticide label may require use of specific nozzles that will produce a coarse or medium-sized droplet. Course droplets resist drift, resulting in a lower drift potential. In addition, when inspecting and calibrating spray equipment, check each nozzle for blockage or wear.  Make sure the output is within 5% of the manufacturer's rating for the nozzle. Clean or replace the nozzle to achieve the desired output if necessary. In addition, boom height is an important factor. The higher the boom, the more drift potential. It is best to keep the boom only as high as it needs to be. View EC 141, Nozzle's–Selection and Sizing, for more tips.
     
  3. Wind Speed and Direction. Always measure wind speed and direction before, during, and after the application. Always follow label information, but in general, wind speeds of 3 to 7 mph are preferable. Never spray when wind speeds are more than 10mph. If wind speed or direction changes during an application, immediately adjust the buffer size or location, or stop the application. Be sure to check Driftwatch to see if a sensitive site is nearby.
     
  4. Temperature Inversions. Applying during a temperature inversion also can result in damaging, long distance drift. Inversions occur when warm air, which is light, rises upward into the atmosphere and cool air, which is heavy, settles near the ground. With these conditions of warm air above cool air, there is no mixing of air. Spray droplets are not dispersed, but stay in a concentrated mass and move with any subtle airflow that may land off-target. Typically, temperature inversions start at dusk and break up with the sunrise, because of vertical air mixing.
     
  5. Planning of Applications. Planning is key when applying any pesticides. When planning, acreage owners need to select products labeled for lawns and turf areas. Many factors influence drift, and applicators must be willing to adjust to particular circumstances, which requires a plan of action. Remember, applicators are legally responsible for problems that are caused by spray drift, even when Mother Nature is the true culprit.

Making pesticide applications is a substantial responsibility with many consequences if not done correctly. Read pesticide labels, check application equipment, and be aware of environmental conditions to reduce drift and make the best use of each product. Consider the environment, safety of yourself and others, and safety of crops when making pesticide applications. For more herbicide stewardship information and considerations visit http://pested.unl.edu/herbicide-stewardship.

Reducing Risk of Herbicide Drift Injury, Nebraska Extension Pesticide Safety Education

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The Long Lives of Trees
By Justin Evertson, Nebraska Forest Service

Image of massive Bur Oak.
Image of massive Nebraska Bur Oak.

Some trees can live a long time--a very long time--thousands of years in fact. This seems especially remarkable considering that for most trees, the very thin layer of living tissues just under the bark (the cambium) is put down new every year. A tree more or less regrows itself every year while clinging to the scaffolding of its old wood. And just imagine all the threats an old tree has dealt with since its sprouting: storms, wind, droughts, floods, heat, cold, fires, animals, hungry insects, diseases and of course people. The likelihood that any one seed might germinate, grow and then survive for millennia is almost impossibly small. And yet we have many long-lived trees across the planet that give testimony to their tenacity and adaptability.

What Is An "Old" Tree?
Defining old trees is not quite as simple as it might first appear. Generally people think of old trees as those big, often gnarled trees with a single trunk--such as old oaks, pines or redwoods. Such trees are dated through dendrochronology, the counting of annual growth rings.  Perhaps the best known of these individual old trees (at least in North America) are the ancient bristlecone pines that grow in the White Mountains along the California-Nevada border. Some specimens have been dated to be well over 5,000 years old; they were growing before the Egyptians built their pyramids.

Interestingly, some clonal tree species such as aspen are actually longer-lived organisms than the oldest individual trees. Such species typically have many short-lived trunks supported by a wide-spreading, long-lived root system. Individual trunks may be lost to weather extremes, disease or fire, but the organism lives on by regularly re-sprouting new trunks (trees). Since dendrochronology can't be used to date these trees, other methods such as radio carbon dating are often used. Incredibly, the Pando grove of quaking aspen in Utah is thought to be at least 80,000 years old. This massive organism has 40,000 stems (trunks), covers more than 106 acres and is estimated to weigh 5,900 tons!

Nebraska's Old Trees
Surprisingly, wind-swept and grass-covered (now farm-covered) Nebraska is home to some very old trees--trees that predate European settlement and the founding of the state itself. In the Wildcat Hills and Pine Ridge of the west, some ponderosa pines have been dated to be at least 400 years old. Even more impressive are some Rocky Mountain junipers proven to be over 700 years old. These trees have survived incredible weather extremes including mega-droughts that made the "Dust Bowl" seem tame. Talk about survivors.

In eastern Nebraska, many massive oaks are hundreds of years old. A specimen in Ponca State Park called the Wolf Oak was core-dated to 1644, making it 132 years older than the United States itself. Some tree experts speculate that some of our native oaks may actually be over 1,000 years old. These are trees that were logged after settlement, but which have since re-sprouted. Thus the trunks may be only 150 years old, but the organism itself is much older.

Big trees can be very old. The General Sherman Giant Sequoia in California is nearly 250 feet high and is the third most massive tree in the world, with a trunk volume of more than 45,000 cubic feet. It is also more than 3,200 years old. However, just because a tree is big doesn't mean it's old. Fast-growing species such as cottonwood, elm, silver maple, silver poplar and sycamore can become quite massive in just a few decades. For example a cottonwood planted in 1972 in Gilman Park in Pierce is now more than 70 feet high with a trunk circumference over 20 feet. Conversely, small trees can actually be very old. The bristlecone pines mentioned earlier are rarely taller than 30 feet.

Finally, thinking beyond individual trees, some species themselves are incredibly ancient. The fossil record reveals pines, redwoods, sycamores, sweetgums, maples and other species dating back millions of years, more or less as they exist today. One species in particular, the ginkgo, is truly a relic, as it has existed relatively unchanged since the age of dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago. The ginkgo is considered to be native to China, but since fossil leaves dating back millions of years have been found in Nebraska, perhaps we can call it native here as well.

Let's face it: trees are incredible. Many are older than our most ancient structures. Some are older than human civilization itself. If they could talk, what a story they would tell.

The Nebraska Forest Service strives to enrich lives by protecting, restoring and utilizing Nebraska's tree and forest resources.

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Do No Harm—Low Risk Alternatives for Landscape Care
By Kendall Weyers, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

Image of mourning cloak butterfly caterpillars.
Image of mourning cloak butterfly caterpillars. Larva of this beautiful butterfly feed on the leaves of willows, poplars, elms and hackberry but don't cause enough damage to warrant control. Identifying an insect and deciding whether control is necessary is a critical step in responsible pesticide use. 

"But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself." Rachel Carson

In Silent Spring, a book declared by "Discover Magazine" as one of the greatest science books of all time, Rachel Carson greatly increased our awareness of the risks of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (often referred to as "chemicals"). We've made great strides since the book was published more than 50 years ago, yet suburban lawns and gardens on average are still treated with significantly more chemicals than agricultural land.

This rather casual use, and many would say overuse, of chemicals has a long list of known side effects and unintended consequences. There are few if any chemicals that don't have at least some risk of negative impacts on the health of non-target organisms, both humans and the wider ecosystem we rely on.

Reducing Pesticide Risk in Your Landscape
The risks can be greatly reduced or even eliminated in our home landscape. So if you'd rather avoid applications that require warning flags, following are some strategies to make your landscape and community a safer place for all creatures, yourself included.

Identify the Insect. Maybe the most important strategy is to change a few of our approaches. When dealing with insects, instead of instantly reaching for the spray, start by asking if it is even a pest. Fewer than 3 percent of insects are actual pests—the rest are either beneficial insects or innocent bystanders that cause no harm.

Has it Reached a Damaging Threshold? If it is a pest, then ask if their numbers are sufficient to warrant treatment. A single grub here and there in your lawn is not a problem. Most healthy plants, especially natives, can withstand insect feeding with no lasting damage. The same goes for many diseases, such as leaf spot.

A similar approach can be taken with weeds. The definition of a weed is a plant growing where it isn't wanted. If you decided you like clover in your lawn and violets in your shrub bed, problem solved. On the other hand, if you determine you do have weeds, ask if their numbers are high enough to be a problem. A little tolerance goes a long way.

Planting wisely helps tremendously too. A native or well-adapted plant grown in a location that gives it proper light, moisture and nutrients will be vigorous and easily able to withstand most insect attacks and out-compete most weeds. If a plant has repeated or ongoing problems, it's probably a sign that plant isn't right for the situation, and removal may be the best course of action.

Prevention. Taking preventative measures also make a big difference in avoiding problems. Mulching to reduce weeds and increase plant health, rotating garden crops to avoid buildup of insect populations and using row covers or netting to protect vulnerable fruits and veggies are a few examples.

Probably the best preventative measure to take is to support a biodiverse landscape. Nature has a remarkably complex system that works to keep pests in check. Predators (birds, bats, ladybugs, praying mantises, spiders), parasitoids (wasps and flies that lay their eggs on pests) and microscopic pathogens (the bacteria that causes Milky Spore disease) are just a few examples of beneficial creatures working for you in a healthy environment.

Choose the Lowest Risk Management Strategy
If treatment is determined necessary, the lowest risk options should come first. Pulling or hoeing weeds and hand removal or sticky traps for insects are sometimes sufficient measures. The next level to consider would be non-synthetic pesticides, made from compounds derived from plants, animals, microorganisms or minerals.

There are also many low risk options with fertilizers. Compost, various meals (alfalfa, soy, fish, bone) and manures are all effective and organic, and some are local. They often contribute micro-nutrients lacking in chemical fertilizers, plus they have positive effects on soil health.

Only when all other options for pest control are exhausted should chemical treatment be considered. If this path is chosen, specific steps can reduce the risks. First, identify the target pest and the most effective methods of chemical control. Second, chose the least toxic option. And third, make an appropriate application. This means following all safety procedures, using correct rates, proper timing (minimal wind, when pest is at vulnerable stage) and limiting contact with non-target organisms.

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum is a nonprofit that works toward sustainable home and community landscapes through initiatives in education, public gardens and the environment. Plant and landscape resources at http://arboretum.unl.edu.

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Mulch for Ornamentals and Veggies
By John Fech, Nebraska Extension Horticulture Educator

Image of mulch applied beneath an evergreen tree.
Widening the ring of mulch beneath this evergreen tree beyond the branch's dripline would protect the plant from physical damage by mowers brushing against it.

Mulch is one of the best tools a gardener has to work with in the summer.  Why?  The answer is 3-fold.  1. Cooling effect, 2. Weed suppression and 3. Moisture retention.

How to mulch?  This starts with the selection of an appropriate material. 

Image of a weedy vegetable garden with no mulch.
Using mulch in this vegetable garden is the best way to prevent weed problems.
  • For veggies, a light colored, lightweight mulch that will break down in a year's time is a good choice.  Good options for this are straw, dried grass clippings and sheets of newspaper.
     
  • For trees and shrubs, a light colored porous material that will remain in place for several years such as wood chips, ground corn cobs, decorative bark and tree trimmings work well.

How much mulch? 

  • Two to three inches is ideal.  Using less is usually not enough to achieve the benefits; more is too much, as it holds too much moisture and excludes oxygen.

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4 Ways to Beat the Heat
By Ashley Mueller, Nebraska Extension Educator & Disaster Education Coordinator

Image of 4 Ways to Beat the Heat graphic.

Summer is upon us, and that means hot weather. In July, temperatures can be high—sometimes for prolonged periods—so it's important to consider ways to prevent heat-related illness.   

Although staying indoors—where it's air-conditioned—is a good recommendation, sometimes that's just not possible: weeds could be pulled from the garden, the pots of patio flowers should be watered, and the lawn needs to be mowed. If you're like me, the list goes on…

If you must be outdoors, what can you do to beat the heat? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these four tips:

  1. Limit your outdoor activity to morning or evening hours. The sun's rays aren't as strong during these times. Plan ahead so you're not working outside during peak sun hours, which are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you're unable to do that, Mayo Clinic suggests limiting the length of time you're in the sun during those peak hours.
     
  2. Stay hydrated. If you spend time in the heat, stay hydrated by drinking 2 to 4 glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. Sports drinks can replace salt and minerals lost in sweat.
     
  3. Rest often and in the shade. Take breaks frequently. Identify a location that provides shade. Under a large tree or on a covered patio or porch are good spots to recover from the heat.
     
  4. Protect yourself. Apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher generously and reapply every 2 hours; the most effective sunscreens are labeled "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection." Some clothing offers sun protection; check labels for its ultraviolet protection factor (UPF); the higher the number, the better. Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are important. Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, clammy and pale skin, fast or weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. Symptoms of heat stroke are high body temperature (above 103 F degrees), hot and red skin, rapid and strong pulse, and possible unconsciousness. Seek immediate medical help if heat stroke is suspected.

The elderly, people with chronic medical conditions, and children are most at-risk for heat sickness. Check on your family members, friends, and neighbors to make sure they are comfortable and informed.

If you use social media, be sure to find Nebraska Extension – Disasters for the latest information on extreme heat and other disasters.

Facebook: Nebraska Extension – Disasters
Pinterest: Nebraska Extension – Disasters
Twitter: @NEExtDisasters

Sources and for more information:
Tips for Preventing Heat-related Illness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Garden Smart and Safe During Summer Heat, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners
Sunburn Prevention, Mayo Clinic
Avoid Heat-related Illness While Enjoying Summer Weather, Michigan State University Extension

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Tips for Barbecue Food Safety
By Lisa Franzen-Castle, Nebraska Extension Nutrition Specialist

Image outdoor grill.
Keep your barbecues with family and friends healthy and safe this summer with the following tips.

Summer not only brings out barbecue grills, but also bacteria. Bacteria love the hot, humid days of summer, grow faster in the summer than at any other time of the year, and can cause foodborne illness. Summer barbecues are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and each other's company. Keep your barbecues with family and friends healthy and safe this summer with the following tips.

Barbecue Basics and Food Safety

  • Keep it clean. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you're eating where there's no source of clean water, bring water, soap, and paper towels or have disposable wipes or hand sanitizer available.
     
  • Marinate food in the refrigerator. Don't marinate food on the counter, marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use a marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.
     
  • Keep raw food separate. Keep your barbecue safe by keeping raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler. Don't use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.
     
  • Seeing isn't believing. Many assume that if a hamburger is brown in the middle, it's done. Looking only at the color and texture of food is not enough. You have to use a food thermometer to be sure. According to USDA research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature. The only safe way to know if meat, poultry, and egg dishes are "done" is to use a food thermometer. Check out the USDA's safe minimum internal temperature chart for a variety of products.
     
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Keep hot food at 140 Fahrenheit (F) or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrapped well in an insulated container. Keep cold food at 40 F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time, out of direct sun, and avoid opening the lid often.
     
  • Temperature and time. Keep your barbecues with family and friends safe this summer by remembering that the time perishable food can be left outside the refrigerator or freezer drops from two hours to one hour in temperatures above 90 F.

For your next barbecue have a food thermometer, several coolers, ice or frozen gel packs, water, soap and paper towels, enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate, and foil or other wrap for leftovers. If you have a food safety question, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854) or send an email to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov. Go to www.food.unl.edu for more information on a variety of food, nutrition, and health topics.

Additional Resources & Links

Sources

  1. Van, D. (2012). Grilling Food Safety 101. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Accessed at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/grillingsafety.html.
  2. Seltzer, H. and Van, D. (2011). Barbecue Basics: Keeping Bacteria at Bay. FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline. Accessed at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/bbq.html
  3. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. (2015). Is It Done Yet? Food Safety Education. Accessed at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/teach-others/fsis-educational-campaigns/is-it-done-yet/is-it-done-yet.
  4. Franzen-Castle, L., and Henneman, A. (2011). Test your Summer Food Safety Savvy. UNL Extension. Accessed at: http://food.unl.edu/web/safety/summer-food-safety-powerpoint.

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Making Water Safe When Away From Home
By Sharon Skipton, Nebraska Extension Environment and Natural Resources Water Quality Educator

Image of backpack stove.
If using bottled water is not an option in situations like these, you can boil the water in a backpack stove to make it safe.

Will you be traveling this summer to a location where water may not be safe to drink?  All public water supplies in the United States are regulated and will be safe to drink.  This includes water in our towns and cities, in our national parks, at interstate rest stops, etc.  But water might not be safe to drink in some countries that do not have safe public water supplies like we have here in the United States.  Or, maybe you plan to backpack in one of our national parks where you may need to rely on surface water, rather than the public water supply, to meet your needs.  If using bottled water is not an option in situations like these, you can boil the water to make it safe.  Adequate heat treatment will kill virtually any disease-causing organism, including bacteria, cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidium, and viruses.

First, be sure the water is free of debris and sediment.  If you are backpacking, you might be able to strain the water through a coffee filter.  Then, heat the water to a vigorous boil and boil for one minute if you are at a lower elevation.  Research conducted by the United States Department of Defense indicates boiling water for one minute includes an adequate safety factor at lower elevations, and boiling any longer could concentrate other chemical contaminants that might be present in the water.  However, since water boils at a lower temperature as elevation increases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boiling water for three minutes at altitudes above 6,562 feet (2,000 meters) to ensure it is safe.

Another method that can be used to make water safe is filtration, but not all filters are equal.  Look for filters rated for particles 0.1 to 10 microns in size to remove bacteria, or 0.005 to 0.1 microns to remove viruses. Parasites and protozoa are relatively large, and are removed by filters rated at 1 to 20 microns.

A less used, but effective option for water disinfection on the go is Ultraviolet (UV) light.  Battery-operated, portable UV devices are now available.  When used properly, they produce UV light of an effective wavelength, for an adequate exposure time to inactivate pathogens.  Water must be free of suspended particles and color for the UV light to penetrate the water and effectively inactivate pathogens.

Drinking contaminated water can cause flu-like symptoms, intestinal infections, dysentery, and other illnesses.  Some can be quite severe and all can ruin your trip.  If you suspect the water you will be using is not safe, treat it to avoid experiencing an unpleasant illness.

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Avian Influenza: Guidelines for Backyard Poultry Flocks
By Lindsay Chichester, Nebraska Extension Educator, and Dr. Sheila Purdum, UNL Poultry Specialist

Image of Leghorn chicken.

This article will provide information about Avian Influenza and suggest recommendations for small or backyard flock owners. Avian Influenza can affect all birds, regardless of housing arrangement or size of flock.

What birds can be infected? The AI virus will infect: chickens, turkeys, quail, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and a wide variety of other birds.

Avian Influenza Symptoms: Lethargic (tired) or listless, depression, decreased egg production, coughing, sneezing, wet eyes, huddling, ruffled feathers, decreased food and/or water consumption, or a high temperature/fever. In three to five days there may be an 80-90% mortality rate.  In your flock, if mortality increases, contact your local veterinarian immediately so they can help you get viable swabs to a lab as soon as possible.

Understanding Influenza: Cases of AI started popping up on the West Coast in December 2014 and have since moved east. The influenza virus is not new or uncommon. People get seasonal influenza (Types A and B) and swine get influenza (Type A). Most currently, we are familiar with Avian Influenza (Type A) which affects all types of birds. Within each type there are various H (16) and N (9) types, hence why you may see the viruses reported as H5N2. Additionally, viruses get together and exchange genetic material, re-sorting and mutating – making it challenging to effectively treat a virus.

Avian Influenza can either be referred to as Highly Pathogenic (HP) or Low Pathogenic (LP). High pathogenic indicates it is a severe and highly infectious disease - to cause an outbreak, only the amount of virus that will fit on the head of a pin is needed. With HP, there may be an 80-95% mortality rate in as little as five days. The HP is usually types H5 or H7. Low pathogenic on the other hand is a mild disease, with a low mortality rate usually caused from a secondary bacterial infection. The LP types are H1, H3, H5, H7, or H9.

Highly Pathogenic flocks DO NOT enter the food supply. They are humanely euthanized and properly disposed of by composting or burial.

Sources of infection and spread: Wild migratory water fowl are the natural host, which means they can become infected but they do not generally get sick and/or die from the infection. However, they will spread it to other healthy hosts (i.e. birds), making them sick or resulting in death. The wild migratory water fowl will shed large amounts of virus into the environment via ponds, waterways, as well as onto grain fields in the spring or fall when large numbers congregate together. Sparrows act as a bridge between waterways where the virus host birds have been and poultry barns or backyard flocks. Sparrows are attracted to small puddles of water in which they bathe, drink, or look for insects to eat. In addition to infected birds visiting your healthy birds, shared equipment and people are sources of possible contamination. The AI can also be spread via wind – more specifically, dust and feathers may be vectors (although this is not the primary method of how the virus is spread). Nasal secretions may also be a source of contamination.

How long can the virus survive? Survival of the influenza virus depends on the strain. Fortunately, highly pathogenic (HP) strains do not usually survive as long as LP strains.

  • The influenza virus will survive on a clean surface for two days. 
  • In fecal material or compost, the virus will survive for about 10 days (very important to know if you are doing dead animal composting).
  • In liquid manure, the influenza virus can survive in winter for 105 days.
  • While feces protect the virus, temperature also has a dramatic effect:
    • If feces are at 40o Fahrenheit, the virus will survive 30-35 days
    • If feces are at 70o Fahrenheit, the virus will survive seven days
    • If feces are at 90o Fahrenheit, the virus will survive four days
    • If the drinking/bathing water is at 66o Fahrenheit, the virus will survive 94-160 days
    • If the drinking/bathing water is at 88o Fahrenheit, the virus will survive 26-30 days

Things that help the virus thrive: Cold or freezing temperatures, fresh or slightly salty water, grain fields or water located in convenient locations, inadequate biosecurity, and possibly strong winds.

Things that hurt the virus: warm weather, dryness/sunshine, salt water, most disinfectants, high level of biosecurity, frozen lakes/rivers, and a surveillance program.

Image of chicken production system.
Image of chicken production system.

Is there treatment options available for the birds? Currently, there is no immunity in poultry flocks as they are not regularly vaccinated. At this time, vaccinations are only permitted for LP flocks. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and state vets are determining if vaccination can be used as an emergency procedure for HP birds. At this time, vaccine is not available and still under review.

What if I find a dead wild bird at/near my home or an area I visit regularly? To error on the side of caution, it is recommended to call your State Veterinarian (a list of state vets and their contact information can be found at: https://www.avma.org/advocacy/stateandlocal/stateanimalhealthofficials/pages/default.aspx) and arrange to have a sample sent to the National Poultry Disease Lab in Ames, Iowa. Your local veterinarian can assist with getting the sample packaged and sent. Again, it is important to note, if you have wild birds on your property, you should proceed with strict biosecurity protocols for your backyard poultry flock's health and safety.

What should I use to disinfect shoes/equipment/eggs? A low to mild Clorox solution (three parts bleach to two parts water), soapy sanitizers, or other disinfectants mixed per label instructions.

What happens if I have to depopulate my flock? Thoroughly disinfect everything. Allow the amount of time needed, as provided above, to pass. During this time, review your biosecurity plan and look for areas that could be made stronger.  Do you know when and/or how your flock became infected? What will you change as a result?

Risk to humans: The risk of contracting AI is low to negligible in humans. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that to date, there have been no reported illnesses or spread to human hosts. Precautions are recommended for workers depopulating and euthanizing HP flocks in large barns. First signs of symptoms for this potential population is respiratory problems and/or conjunctivitis, anti-viral drugs may be given as a precaution.

Are poultry products still safe to consume? Yes! Avian flu CANNOT be transmitted through safely handled and properly cooked poultry meat and/or egg products. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined HP can survive in poultry, but keep in mind, HP flocks do not enter the food supply! If you notice a bird in your backyard flock has come down with the AI symptoms, do not consume that bird! Contact your local veterinarian and dispose of it as directed. Table eggs sold in retail markets are sanitized prior to human consumption. If you are raising/buying eggs that are locally sourced, ensure from the supplier they are being properly sanitized.

What do the next six months look like? The U.S. has the strongest surveillance program in the world. Unfortunately, this is not over yet and the impact on the poultry and egg industry is unknown. The number of cases will hopefully decrease over the summer as temperatures increase. However, the virus outbreaks may increase again in the fall as migratory birds go to fields to forage for grains.

What can I do to protect my flock? Biosecurity = risk management! Put as many procedures in place as possible to prevent the introduction of disease causing organisms into your barns and onto your farm.

  • Increase the level of biosecurity!
  • Bring birds indoors, get them away from open sources of water that other birds are drinking from or defecating in.
  • Provide clean and sanitary water to your birds:
    • If your flock is drinking from standing water sources, those water sources need to be completely blocked off so that small wild birds cannot access the water, thus potentially contaminating your flock.
    • If you are not able to use clean well water, water from other sources will need to be sanitized before it is used or may cause disease outbreak.
    • The AI virus will survive for longer periods of time in silt and mud in cool temperatures at the bottom of ponds (at 63o F, the virus will survive up to 100).
  • Do not allow your birds to graze or be on pastures where wild birds have access.
  • Limit traffic to your flock and your facility. If you are selling eggs or meat, consider meeting customers off your farm to decrease the potential for the AI virus to come to your farm.
  • Only allow authorized personnel to be near your poultry. This may be just immediately family. Do not allow any unnecessary visitors.
  • Determine if your personal biosecurity plan is strict enough. Do you have a sanitizing foot bath? Do you have a vehicle or equipment sanitizing plan?
  • Do you have a plan for people to change clothes before and after working with or near poultry?
  • If traveling out of state or to another poultry facility please use all good biosecurity precautions.
  • New stock should only be introduced from sources you are sure are AI free and not from areas in or near an AI outbreak.
  • If you are selling eggs: thoroughly clean and disinfect each egg prior to giving to the client.  Only re-use clean cartons (no debris or dust). 
  • If you and/or your family have visited a state park or other common place where water fowl frequent, please use extra precaution on cleaning shoes, vehicles, clothes, or any equipment to ensure you do not infect your flock.

Sources:
Carver, Donna (2015). Presenting avian influenza in backyard poultry flocks. North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Purdum, S. (2015 April). H5N2 Avian Flu. UNL MarketJournal.
USDA: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (2015 June). Avian Influenza Disease.
USDA: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (2015 June). Update on Avian Influenza Findings.
Wojcinski, H. (2015). Avian Influenza: What you need to know. Hybrid Genetics.

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