Maine Agriculture Officials Urge Awareness of Avian Flu Ahead of Maple Weekend

With Maple Weekend 2022 approaching in Maine, state officials are warning people to take precautions regarding the H5N1 strain of HPAI, which has increased in prevalence in Maine and nationwide; the virus is low risk to humans but harmful to birds

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As Maine's Maple Weekend 2022 approaches, officials there are urging people to be aware of avian flu.

The H5N1 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has appeared with increasing prevalence in the state since February as cases of the virus spike nationwide.

"There are going to be thousands and thousands of us heading out to farms to enjoy sugar shacks," said Jim Britt, spokesperson for Maine's Depart of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

H5N1 has been found in flocks of birds from South Dakota, to Iowa to New York and has resulted in numerous animals being killed of to prevent the virus' spread.

"Visitors to those farms need to be realizing we can transmit to those birds on our clothing, on our shoes," Britt explained during a Friday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston.

The virus can be transmitted by migratory birds like geese, which is why Maine officials are concerned people may step in bird feces, not realize what happened and bring that waste to farms where it can cause outbreaks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite the virus being harmful to birds, it is low risk to humans.

"Is it safe to eat birds and eggs? The answer is yes," said Britt, noting that all poultry products should be properly and thoroughly cooked to be consumed safely.

He added that Maine's cases, which are counted by flocks of birds, have mostly been in birds that people keep at home and do not sell eggs or meat from, known as "non-poultry."

However, that changed this week when HPAI was found in one Maine flocks from which eggs are produced and sold.

As NBC News has reported, the nationwide spread of HPAI may cause chicken and egg prices to rise if it reaches a certain magnitude.

Despite the concern about the expected rush of people on Maine farms and Maine having, as of Friday, the second-highest number of flocks affected by H5N1 in the country, Britt noted that "in the grand scheme of things, we are not having to react" to "large commercial populations of birds."

The number of flocks known to the federal government to have H5N1 does not directly correlate with the number of individual birds affected in each state.

On Friday, for instance, birds impacted by H5N1 numbered in the hundreds, while in Iowa, that number of birds was in excess of five million animals.

Still, Britt says Maine officials are urging farmers to bring their flocks of birds indoors.

They're also asking everyone to take note of the USDA's "Defend the Flock" program and request that anyone who sees a wild bird like a goose that appears sick to call a USDA hotline at 1-800-536-7593.

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