A Retrospective Study of Early vs. Late Virus Detection and Depopulation on Egg Laying Chicken Farms Infected with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus During the 2015 H5N2 Outbreak in the United S

The 2015 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N2 outbreak affected more than 200 Midwestern U.S. poultry premises. Although each affected poultry operation incurred substantial losses, some operations of the same production type and of similar scale had differences between one another in their ability to recognize evidence of the disease before formal diagnoses and in their ability to make proactive, farm-level disease containment decisions. In this case comparison study, we examine the effect of HPAI infection on two large egg production facilities and the epidemiologic and financial implications resulting from differences in detection and decision-making processes. Each egg laying facility had more than 1 million caged birds distributed among 18 barns on one premises (Farm A) and 17 barns on the other premises (Farm B). We examine how farm workers´ awareness of disease signs, as well as how management´s immediate or delayed decisions to engage in depopulation procedures, affected flock mortality, levels of environmental contamination, time intervals for re population, and farm profits on each farm. By predictive mathematical modeling, we estimated the time of virus introduction to examine how quickly infection was identified on the farms and then estimated associated contact rates within barns. We found that the farm that implemented depopulation immediately after detection of abnormal mortality (Farm A) was able to begin repopulation of barns 37 days sooner than the farm that began depopulation well after the detection of abnormally elevated mortality (Farm B). From average industry economic data, we determined that the loss associated with delayed detection using lost profit per day in relation to down time was an additional $3.3 million for Farm B when compared with Farm A.