Mass chicken depopulation to control infectious laryngotracheitis

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About 1.4 million chickens were killed in a mass depopulation to control the spread of a viral upper respiratory tract infection discovered in early March at farms in east-central Texas.

A statement from the Texas Animal Health Commission indicates the birds were affected or exposed to laryngotracheitis. In the statement, Dr. Bob Hillman, director of the TAHC, said his agency was overseeing cleaning and disinfection of farm vehicles and conducting disease surveillance in the area.

Dr. Hillman said the disease is not a threat to human health.

Joelle Schelhaus, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the USDA was helping TAHC officials with cleaning and disinfection, but she referred other questions to the TAHC.

Dr. Philip A. Stayer, corporate veterinarian for Sanderson Farms, said the chickens were housed with contract growers at six farms in a two-mile radius near Hammond, Texas.

A staff veterinarian for Sanderson Farms saw clinical signs of infectious laryngotracheitis during a routine farm visit March 9, and the depopulation occurred between March 13 and 21, Dr. Stayer said. About one million of the chickens were processed for meat, and about 400,000 were not of age to process.

The depopulation was unusual in its size, but eradication is preferred to vaccination and living with the virus, Dr. Stayer said. Foam depopulation was the method used. The AVMA supports the use of water-based foam as a method of mass depopulation for poultry in accordance with the conditions and performance standards outlined by the USDA-APHIS.

By mid-April, no further laryngotracheitis infections had been discovered, he said.