In recent years, the United States has faced significant challenges in containing the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly known as bird flu. The consequences of outbreaks have been devastating for the poultry industry, with millions of birds culled to curb the spread of the virus. However, the threat has evolved. HPAI now affects dairy herds across state lines, demanding swift and effective measures to safeguard farms. 

In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of biosecurity wash systems in combating the spread of bird flu, as well as what the future of this threat may look like as it continues to evolve. In our ongoing effort to distribute vital information, we've collaborated with Feed & Grain to share additional insights and have also recorded a podcast to reach as many ears as possible.

Understanding Bird Flu: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza 

Since the 2014-2015 outbreak, the poultry industry in the United States has been grappling with the challenges posed by HPAI. During the outbreak at that time, more than 50 million birds were culled, and according to the USDA, more than 82 million farmed birds have been culled since February 2022. 

The virus has resulted in substantial losses of not just chickens, but economic impact at over $3.3 billion. Last year, one of the largest egg producers in the US reached out to learn more about the Hydro-Chem Systems biosecurity washes. The producer needed a new system for a site, but before the construction on the building that would house the equipment could be finished, the farm was hit by bird flu, leaving more than a million birds affected. 

This new outbreak is prompting serious concerns about its potential impact and the potential to spread to other livestock, causing even more issues. The recent news of confirmed cases of HPAI  in dairy herds underscores the need for all stakeholders to implement proactive measures to prevent things from getting worse. Dairy farmers, in particular, are now at risk and will need to look to a comprehensive approach to biosecurity to save their cattle.


Bird Flu Threatens the Dairy Industry

While HPAI has been detected in other animals before, the jump to dairy cows in multiple herds across state lines, has prompted farmers to look for solutions that will stop the spread of this potentially deadly virus.

Hydro-Chem Systems Automatic Wash Specialist, Keith Bailey, said he has already received calls from dairy farmers in the southwest looking for proactive measures. 

“Farmers are cautious right now, and rightfully so,” Bailey continued. “Given how many birds were culled over the years. The fact that it’s now in cattle, means farmers need to take preventative measures immediately. Without a proper biosecurity wash system, the virus will continue to spread from cow to cow, and farm to farm.”

Due to the swift uptick in cases among cattle, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners has requested that the terminology be updated when describing the virus in cattle. It should be referred to as Bovine Influenza A Virus, or BIAV

But regardless of whether we’re tracking the spread of HPAI or BIAV, it’s important that we all take the necessary precautions to help slow the spread of any viruses or germs that have substantial consequences. 

Transportation fleets that don’t follow a stringent cleaning process could play a direct role in furthering outbreaks, leading to trade restrictions and loss of income across all facilities. Already, 21 states have restricted cattle importations from states where the virus is known to have infected dairy cows. 


Impact on the Fleet Washing Industry

Transportation vehicles serve as one of the number one vectors for the transmission of viruses between farms and processing plants. This means that fleet managers will play a crucial role in stopping the spread. 

By implementing stringent cleaning protocols for feed trucks, poultry transport trailers, and even personal vehicles, the industry can help to minimize the chances of further disease transmission. This means vehicles that travel between feed mills, processing plants, buying stations, or other farms must undergo thorough washing and disinfection.

The risk of spreading HPAI, and consequently BIAV, with cross-contamination between facilities greatly increases once wild flocks start migration patterns again. Biosecurity procedures are the first line of defense, which means guidelines for cleaning need to be strictly enforced. Proper cleaning of trucks and trailers is necessary to maximize the level of protection from disease.

Enhancing Biosecurity Protocols

Biosecurity wash systems are an effective solution for mitigating the spread of disease and since the 2014 HPAI outbreak, Hydro-Chem Systems has installed dozens of systems across numerous states.

In these systems, all vehicles are covered completely, from the tops and sides to the undercarriage, using an EPA-approved sanitizer before being able to access the facility, reducing the chance of any outside contamination. During the biosecurity wash process, vehicles are moved through a single entry point and out through a single exit point. This ensures that any person or vehicle that passes through will be cleaned and sanitized before exiting the system.

But to even better protect your fleet, many facilities choose to install a full wash system that includes the option to use 2-Step Wash Process before sanitizing the vehicle. This helps reduce vehicle maintenance costs and increase brand image while still keeping the sanitizer as the last step. 

From a full wash to a sanitizer only, our systems offer a comprehensive approach to vehicle sanitation, with each system capable of running over 150 cycles a day. 


Collaborative Efforts: Partnering for Biosecurity

To slow the spread, collaborative efforts between industry stakeholders is going to be crucial to developing effective biosecurity strategies to slow the spread of disease. 

Hydro-Chem Systems has forged partnerships, including working with Iowa State University and many of the biggest producers in the egg, poultry, and pork industries to develop comprehensive biosecurity programs tailored to the needs of facilities and farmers, including facility design and layout.

By pooling expertise and resources, other institutions and organizations can develop strategies that can protect agriculture from future outbreaks. 


Differentiating from Past Outbreaks

The previous 2014-2015 outbreak, though significant, pales in comparison to the ongoing global spread of bird flu, which began in 2020 and became a concern in the United States by early 2022. This outbreak spans multiple years and migration seasons, in nearly every state, with the virus now posing an increased threat not only to poultry and egg producers but also to various livestock species.

Unlike past outbreaks, the current situation presents unique challenges. The virus has spread beyond poultry and egg producers, infecting multiple dairy cattle herds across state lines and even claiming the lives of juvenile goats. While infected dairy cattle have experienced illness and reduced milk production, thankfully, fatalities have not occurred. However, the severity of the situation underscores the urgent need for increased biosecurity measures to protect livestock.


What’s Next?

The threat of HPAI and BIAV poses significant challenges for farmers, producers, and fleet managers across the United States. However, proactive measures, such as the implementation of biosecurity wash systems, offer a viable solution for combating this outbreak. As the battle against bird flu intensifies, Hydro-Chem Systems remains steadfast in its commitment to empowering farmers, producers, and the agricultural community at large with effective biosecurity solutions

As the spring migration season continues, every farmer and producer must be proactive in slowing the spread of viruses and germs. 


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