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Apr 30, 2024Print this page

How to Swab for Bird Flu: A Comprehensive Guide

A conceptual image of a chicken pulling a large, stylized model of a virus, which is bright red and spiked.

When it comes to farming, swabbing for disease plays a pivotal role in species health management and prevention. It's not just about maintaining the health of your animals – it extends beyond that to ensuring the safety of the global food supply and protecting public health.

Over the past few years, you may have seen an uptick in poultry-related disease diagnoses across the United States – extending even beyond birds to also affect other animal species. This cornerstones the need for swabbing as a frontline defense in detecting diseases early, which is essential for containing outbreaks and preventing them from spreading within flocks or to humans. This practice is also a key component in comprehensive biosecurity programs, which are vital in modern poultry operations to maintain the overall health and productivity of the flock.

Key Diseases Identified Through Poultry Swabbing

Poultry swabs serve as an essential tool in diagnosing a range of diseases that can significantly impact bird health and farm productivity. Among these, Avian Influenza – commonly known as bird flu – and Virulent Newcastle Disease are notable for their highly contagious nature and potential to cause severe outbreaks. 

Avian Infectious Bronchitis, while less known to the public, is equally important as it impacts the respiratory, reproductive, and renal systems of birds. Salmonellosis, a bacterial infection, also poses a significant risk not just to poultry but also to human health, as it can be transmitted through contaminated poultry products.

Common Poultry Disease Symptoms 

The diagnosis of poultry diseases often begins with the observation of symptoms, which can vary widely but typically include:

  • Respiratory distress, such as coughing, sneezing, and gasping.

  • Changes in behavior, including lethargy and reduced activity.

  • Physical symptoms like facial swelling and diarrhea.

  • Production-related signs, such as a drop in egg production and poor egg quality.

An increase in mortality rates can be a clear indicator of a severe disease outbreak within your flock.

If you see any of these symptoms, it’s vital to test for poultry diseases as soon as you’re able to.

How to Test Poultry for Bird Flu

Which Birds Are Most Frequently Swabbed?

Regular swabbing is particularly critical for bird species commonly raised in close-quarter farming. Chickens, both broilers and layers, are often the primary focus due to their significant role in global food production. Turkeys are also swabbed regularly, given their susceptibility to various respiratory diseases. 

Ducks and geese, raised for both meat and eggs, are also included in swabbing protocols due to their role in the food industry and potential disease carriers – but interestingly enough, ducks and geese are more disease resistant than other poultry species and could be asymptomatic carriers of the disease that’s affecting a mixed flock of birds.

Understanding Bird Flu's Spread to Other Species

Bird flu, primarily known for affecting birds, has shown capabilities of crossing species barriers. Recent studies and cases have demonstrated that bird flu can infect mammals – including humans – under certain conditions. 

This zoonotic potential makes it vital for not just poultry farmers but also wildlife managers and health officials to remain vigilant.

Can Bird Flu Be Transferred from Animal to Human?

Yes, bird flu can be transferred from animals to humans, though such instances are rare and usually require close contact with infected birds. The transmission is a significant concern in regions with dense poultry farming or markets where live birds are sold. Health officials monitor these transmission pathways closely to prevent potential pandemics.

Addressing the Need for Healthy Bird Flocks

A quick history lesson…

The National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), established in the 1930s, serves as a crucial initiative for promoting the health of poultry flocks and ensuring safe food supply. This program, a cooperative of the United States Department of Agriculture, regularly updates testing guidance for the poultry industry. The NPIP was designed to foster collaboration among industry stakeholders, state, and federal agencies, focusing on the integration and application of evolving diagnostic technology methods. 

This collaborative effort has significantly contributed to advancements in the poultry industry nationwide. The specific testing standards applied by the NPIP are detailed in Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR) part 147, with regular amendments and updates reflecting the progress and evolution of industry practices.

Case Study: Finding Bird Flu in Maine Through Testing

In Maine, Puritan’s home state, the first recorded case of avian flu involved local residents, Charly and Jack Matheson, who noticed unusual symptoms in their flock of chickens and ducks. They promptly contacted the Maine CDC to test their birds using recommended swabbing techniques, which confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain.

Charly Matheson emphasized the importance of testing: "Testing for bird flu isn't just about protecting our birds – it's about community safety. At my house, we treat our animals like family, so it was devastating to me to find out that my birds had been infected by this horrible disease. I encourage farmers or anyone with backyard birds to be vigilant about your flock interacting with wild birds, and regularly swab your animals to ensure they are not spreading it to others, including you."

This leads us to the “how to” section of this comprehensive guide on bird flu testing.

Bird Flu Guide CTA with Poultry Image

How to Swab for Bird Flu – The Best Swabs for the Job

A lab leader at a prominent poultry lab believed a better swab was out there and requested samples of Puritan's flocked swab. The lab professional designed and conducted the study that would yield decisive data. The results confirmed that the polyester flocked swab was far superior in collection and release of a reliable specimen when compared to the conventional spun rayon on plastic swab that had been in use.  Not only that, but the flexibility of the swab shaft and the soft tip of the applicator made it more chicken friendly - a clear plus from the bird's perspective.

Since that study in 2013, the swab identified by that study has been specified for poultry testing by many lab professionals as well as by government agencies who monitor wild bird populations for communicable disease.

Let’s learn more about flocked swabs.

How to Test for Bird Flu with Flocked Swabs

Swabbing in poultry is a critical component of maintaining bird health, ensuring food safety, and protecting public health. The advancement of tools like Puritan's flocked swabs has significantly improved the efficiency and effectiveness of specimen collection. Understanding the diseases, symptoms, and appropriate collection tools is essential for anyone involved in poultry health management.

The shift from conventional rayon tipped applicators to flocked swabs, such as Puritan’s mini-tip PurFlock Ultra®, has transformed specimen collection in poultry. These swabs are designed to be less stressful for the birds while providing a more efficient and effective means of collecting samples. Their unique structure allows for enhanced sample uptake and release, which is crucial for accurate diagnostic testing.

hydraflock

  • Puritan’s HydraFlock® and PurFlock Ultra® flocked swabs are specially designed with polyester for effective specimen collection, featuring molded breakpoints for ease of use. Their range includes the following Puritan item numbers:

  • Elongated tip swabs (25-3806-U/H) for deeper sampling.

4 Step Guide on How to Swab for Bird Flu

Testing for bird flu involves several meticulous steps to ensure accuracy and safety. Using your flocked swab, here is a quick step-by-step guide to follow when testing your animal for bird flu:

Step 1. Identify Symptoms

Watch for signs of illness in your animal, which may include sudden death, respiratory distress, diarrhea, and reduced egg production for birds.

Step 2. Prepare for Sample Collection

Ensure you have the right tools. For avian influenza testing, Puritan's flocked swabs are recommended for their efficiency in sample collection and bird-friendly design.

Step 3. Collect the Sample

  • Restrain the animal gently to minimize stress.

  • Respiratory testing of live chickens is done by swabbing from the choanal slit to collect an oropharyngeal specimen. You can do so by holding the bird's mouth open gently and drawing the tip of the swab through this area at the roof of the mouth.  

  • Rotate the swab gently but firmly to collect respiratory exudate without causing harm.

  • Place the swab immediately into a sterile viral transport medium.

Step 4. Transport the Sample with Care

Ensure samples are kept at a cool temperature and sent to the laboratory as soon as possible. Samples are typically tested using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) to detect the presence of the virus’s genetic material.

Looking for more? Click below to get our printable PDF guide on how to test poultry for bird flu! 

How to Test Poultry for Bird Flu

Stay Prepared to Test for Bird Flu with Puritan’s Flocked Swabs

Effective testing and monitoring for bird flu are essential components of global disease control strategies. By implementing rigorous testing protocols, using the appropriate tools, and staying informed about the disease’s ability to cross species, we can help safeguard both animal and human health. 

For more information on best practices in specimen collection and to explore our range of swabs ideal for this purpose, please contact our knowledgeable product specialists at Puritan.

Contact a sales rep, today!

Topics: Flocked Swabs, Veterinary, Environmental and Food Safety

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