guest post by Andrea Martin
Recent outbreaks of avian influenza (including the highly pathogenic strains) in the Midwest have sounded the alarm against this dangerous disease. While the outbreak was mostly confined to commercial farms, backyard poultry keepers need to be vigilant as well. Without any treatment options available for poultry, the influenza virus won’t be welcomed in our flocks. (photo above from the USDA: Hemorrhaging of the skin and legs is just one of the signs birds might exhibit when infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus.)
Information About Avian Influenza
Vaccinations are used to help prevent the contraction and spread of influenza in humans and other species, but there aren’t any readily available for our chickens. The virus was first noted in wild bird populations (waterfowl) in 2014. The H5 virus was located on the west coast, in Washington – it has since expanded into the HPAI forms H5N2, H5N8 and H5N1 strains. The CDC explains, “the USDA is the lead agency for [tracking] such activities in domestic birds. The latest information on avian influenza findings in the Pacific Flyway is available on [the] USDA’s website.”
Tracing of the virus in wild birds continues as the spring migrations are underway, and the virus has been detected in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi Flyways. It is paramount that backyard flocks not come into contact with wild waterfowl or have access to waterways visited by waterfowl. Poultry keepers should not visit commercial farms, come into contact with unknown fowl or handle wild waterfowl. Most HPAI is introduced through human transmission of the virus on their clothes or equipment.
At this time prevention and awareness are all chicken (and other poultry) keepers can do to prevent their birds from being exposed to this disease. In addition to reducing exposure to potential wild carriers we can ensure our birds have great nutrition, stress-free lifestyles and prebiotics/probiotics with nutritional supplements to ensure they have strong immune systems. The addition of Seabuck 7, for instance, to the birds’ diet has shown some exciting benefits. (photo above from the USDA: Purple discoloration of the comb could indicate highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Birds pictured are likely factory farmed judging from their trimmed beaks.)
The Anti-viral Properties of Sea Buckthorn
A study from The Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygiene (2015) used dried sea buckthorn bud extract in an experiment to test its antiviral properties against the influenza virus. The avian influenza virus can run through a flock and become highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) very quickly. This disease’s mortality rate is astounding! “Influenza A virus displays constant evolutionary changes, defined as “antigenic drift”  and “antigenic shift” , enabling new mutant strains to emerge and spread.”
Antiviral drugs are not particularly useful in halting or stopping the effects of the avian flu. The viruses build resistance quickly making the drugs useless. There are a few other pharmacy products that have to be tested, but the most promising antiviral substances are those that knock out the virus on the cellular level. Scientists are looking to plants for the answer. One plant’s extract stands out – and that is the one made from the sea buckthorn! (photo below by Arthur Chapman)
“All parts of SBT [sea buckthorn] contain large amounts of several active compounds  and these include: vitamins (folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, riboflavin), carotenoids…phytosterols (amyrins, ergosterol, stigmasterol, lansterol), organic acids (malic and oxalic acids), polyunsaturated fatty acids and essential amino acids .” The Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygiene study used extracts from the sea buckthorn bud to test for antiviral activities. The results were promising, as it was determined that the extract did have a strong antiviral effect on the H1N1 (A/California/7/2009) virus group. The researchers in the group revealed, “that SBT bud extract is able to reduce the growth of the Influenza A H1N1 virus in vitro at a concentration of 50 Âµg/ml. This discovery opens up the possibility of using SBT bud extract as a valid weapon against Influenza and, in addition, as the starting-point for the discovery of new drugs.”
Another hot off the press study from the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences echoed the earlier findings. The antiviral activities of sea buckthorn leaf extract proved even more compelling. The leaf extract was held against the commercially available antiviral drug Oseltamivir. Tests showed that “all extracts from [the] seabuckthorn leaf…inhibited influenza A and B virus infections more effectively than Oseltamivir … used as a control drug,” in the trials. That is good news!
How Chicken Keepers Can Maintain Flock Health
Biosecurity is the first (and best) step for fencing out the virus. You want to keep the influenza viruses out of your flock. Quarantine new birds, separate birds returning from shows and don’t handle wild waterfowl. If you live in high risk regions, do not visit other farms (especially commercial ones), and if you must do so be sure to wash your clothes and disinfect footwear as well as vehicle tires – BEFORE going around your property and visiting your poultry. Never share poultry cages or equipment.
Good husbandry and ethical handling of poultry is always important. Always allow plenty of room for birds to engage in natural activities. Feed a variety of quality grain, vegetables and fruits while allowing the birds access to safe foraging areas. Happy birds are healthy birds. Add probiotics to their feed and supplement with sea buckthorn formulations such as Seabuck 7. Birds build great immune systems when they have the nutritionally active compounds of the sea buckthorn fruit to do so. Boosting the birds’ natural vigor while making sure they enjoy a stress free and enriched lifestyle goes a long way in keeping your feathered friends safe and cheerful!