York County farm sanctuary on guard after avian flu outbreak

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Amanda Clark and her band of chickens, turkeys and peacocks are preparing for the worst.

A new strain of avian flu is hitting farms, zoos and pet owners across the country. The flu, while not considered a danger to humans, is deadly and contagious for the bird population.

And it's creeping ever closer, with five confirmed outbreaks in Lancaster County as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An estimated 3.8 million birds are affected.

"We need to do everything we can to continue to protect them," Clark said. "But it is scary, because it does spread and it will kill our birds."

Here With Us Farm Sanctuary, located at 3397 Tunnel Hill Road, is a nonprofit that rescues neglected or abused farm animals. Photo credit by Amanda Clark.

Nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 26 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. When the virus is found on farms, officials recommend entire flocks be killed.

“Protecting Pennsylvania’s $7.1 billion poultry industry is a year-round top priority,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said at a recent news conference. “We have strict biosecurity protocols in place both for Pennsylvania farms and for poultry products shipped in and out of the state."

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Redding's department, for example, has quarantined a farm in East Donegal Township and all commercial poultry facilities within a 10-kilometer (about 6 mile) radius of the infected flock.

For Clark, at Seven Valleys-based Here With Us Farm Sanctuary, taking an animal's life is the last thing she wants to do. The farm sanctuary takes in abused and neglected farm animals, including cows, pigs and goats, in addition to her avian friends.

Here With Us Farm Sanctuary, located at 3397 Tunnel Hill Road, is a nonprofit that rescues neglected or abused farm animals. Photo credit by Amanda Clark.

"It is spread by wild birds, which is unfortunate because they're everywhere," Clark said. "When there were local cases, we decided it was time to start being proactive."

Birds spread the virus through their droppings and nasal discharge. It can also be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing and vehicles, according to The Associated Press.

In response, Here With Us Farm Sanctuary is under a strict quarantine. So far, none of Clark's birds has contracted the virus. 

Here With Us Farm Sanctuary, located at 3397 Tunnel Hill Road, is a nonprofit that rescues neglected or abused farm animals. Photo credit by Amanda Clark.

Recently, the sanctuary raised money to help protect its population of rescued birds.

The nonprofit raised $1,000 and matched that goal so it could purchase canopy tents.

"They have a solid roof and netted sides to fully enclose them, which is needed to protect the birds," Clark said. 

York County residents can help stop the spread of bird flu, too. 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends minimizing contact with wild birds and sick poultry. 

Do not visit poultry farms, bird markets and other places where live poultry are raised, kept or sold, the CDC said.

If poultry is suspected to be infected with bird flu, individuals should report it to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services by calling 717-772-2852.

Additionally, sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 610-926-3136 or pgc-wildlifehealth@pa.gov.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.