A poultry farm in Lancaster County’s East Donegal Township is ground zero in Pennsylvania for the highly contagious bird flu that has swept across the U.S., killing wild birds and poultry alike and leaving farmers with no choice but to euthanize their own flocks to keep it from spreading further.
Samples tested by the Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory as well as another lab in Iowa identified the first known cases of bird flu among commercial poultry in Pennsylvania since 1984, according to the Agriculture Department.
About 1.4 million birds on the Lancaster County farm were “euthanized as quickly, safely, and humanely as possible,” the department said. More than 160 commercial and private poultry farms within a 10-kilometer radius are under quarantine.
Bird flu rarely spreads to people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said “there is no risk to the public, and poultry and eggs are safe to eat if cooked properly.”
However, the flu called “highly pathogenic avian influenza” is often fatal for chickens, ducks, geese, and other domestic birds. In March the state Game Commission identified the first Pennsylvania avian influenza case since the virus was detected in North America in 2021 — a bald eagle found dead in Chester County. Hooded mergansers, a type of small duck, found in Clarion and Venango counties were also soon identified to have died from the virus.
Bodily waste from wild birds on their migratory routes is the main way that the virus spreads to commercially raised poultry, Redding said. That can make it difficult to stop. The state has ordered a ban on “the exhibition of poultry and eggs at county and local fairs” for the next two months.
At stake is the commonwealth’s $7.1 billion poultry industry, which employs 26,000 people, Redding said. The flu, which has spread to 29 states, has led farmers to cull millions of birds, adding to price and supply chain woes.
“There’s only so many chickens,” Redding said. “There’s only so many eggs. There’s only so much poultry. So we have to be aware that there could be implications to supply if we don’t contain this.”
Those who have birds should look for sudden death, lack of energy and appetite, decreased egg production, soft-shelled or misshapen eggs, swelling of the head and other areas, coughing, sneezing, lack of coordination, and diarrhea.
The department asks those who suspect their poultry is infected to call the Pennsylvania Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services at 717-772-2852, option 1.