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Biosecurity for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Issues and Options

by 5m Editor
17 December 2008, at 12:00am

FAO has published a report offering recommendations for biosecurity for all those involved in the poultry industry. The aim of the authors was to come up with solutions to make biosecurity practical and sustainable for all those involved.

This paper was written on behalf of FAO, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Bank by a multidisciplinary team at FAO under the overall guidance and responsibility of J. Domenech, the Chief Veterinary Officer of FAO. Lead author was Nick Honhold, with sections written by Anni McLeod, Satyajit Sarkar and Phil Harris.

It develops existing knowledge on biosecurity as a vital means to control highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI; bird flu), based on the needs for segregation, cleaning and disinfection. The paper then describes how each of these aspects applies specifically to the various groups of people who have a vital role to play in the control of HPAI. This includes not only poultry producers and sellers (whatever the scale) but also those who are involved in fighting birds, hunting and the keeping of exotic birds. Equally important, recommendations are included to cover traders, live-bird market (LBM) workers, animal health workers, feed sellers and transporters.

The guiding principle throughout the paper is that biosecurity must be practical and sustainable for all those involved.

Report Summary

Biosecurity is the implementation of measures that reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of disease agents. Biosecurity requires the adoption of a set of attitudes and behaviours by people to reduce risk in all activities involving domestic, captive exotic and wild birds and their products.

This paper moves forward from the discussion presented in the FAO/OIE/World Bank position paper on The importance of biosecurity in reducing HPAI risk on farms and in markets, prepared for the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, held in New Delhi in December 2007. It draws on what we already know about biosecurity, particularly for countries endemically infected with HPAI or at high risk of introduction, identifies problems, proposes solutions and outlines a future course of action.

Among others, it looks at the basic principles of biosecurity within the overall framework of disease control, discusses species- and sector-specific issues, stresses the importance of situating biosecurity in appropriate economic and cultural settings, and makes the case for the role of communication.

The Fundamental Principles

Taking as its starting point the definition of biosecurity as 'implementation of practices that create barriers in order to reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of disease agents', the paper stresses that people are key to correct implementation but that this must be formulated in terms of measures that are hard to avoid and easy to comply with. The three principle elements of biosecurity are:
  1. Segregation: The creation and maintenance of barriers to limit the potential opportunities for infected animals and contaminated materials to enter an uninfected site. This step, properly applied, will prevent most infection.
  2. Cleaning Materials, e.g. vehicles, equipment, that have to enter (or leave) a site must be thoroughly cleaned to remove visible dirt. This will remove most of the virus that is contaminating the materials.
  3. Disinfection: Properly applied, disinfection will inactivate any virus that is present on materials that have already been thoroughly cleaned.

The details of how biosecurity is applied will depend on the type of poultry production unit in question: for farms and villages, for example, the emphasis should be on 'bioexclusion', i.e. keeping disease agents out, for markets it should be on 'biocontainment', i.e. keeping disease agents in, and for duck flocks it is a question of both.

Appropriate disease control methods will depend heavily on identifying the mechanisms through which HPAI is maintained and spread. Here much still remains to be learned about the potential role of wild birds as a reservoir of infection (so far, no long-term reservoir outside live animals has been identified) but a very clear reservoir has been identified in domestic poultry (particularly ducks) and possibly in other captive wild birds.

Studies have also shown that live infected domestic poultry can produce virus for several days or weeks without clear clinical signs. Infected domestic birds are the most dangerous source of virus and inanimate objects (fomites) contaminated with secretions (in particular faeces) from infected birds are the next most dangerous source of virus and air-borne spread is not significant. The disease is mostly spread by the actions of man, moving either infected birds or contaminated materials.

General Issues


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"If one recommendation were to sum up all the recommendations in this paper, this would be that biosecurity must be practical and sustainable for all."

In no country is poultry keeping or production homogenous. Firstly, the sector is made up of many different types of domestic and non-domestic captive birds; besides poultry, people keep other types of bird, including fighting cocks, breeding and show birds, birds of prey and related species, decoy birds for hunting and captive exotic wild birds.

Second, many people other than keepers form part of the domestic and captive bird sector; these include traders, live-bird market (LBM) workers, animal health workers, feed sellers and transporters.

The more complex the production and marketing chain (i.e. the more steps and people involved), the harder it seems to be to control and eradicate H5N1 HPAI – but, when devising and recommending biosecurity measures, all stages in the chain must be taken into account.

Currently, there are many known biosecurity measures, but these have been developed mostly for large-scale commercial production systems in the so-called 'developed world'.

This raises three major issues:

  • Large-scale commercial farms in the “developing world” should be encouraged to adopt the measures.
  • Few of the commonly-recommended measures are appropriate for small-scale commercial systems or for scavenging poultry.
  • Biosecurity measures have not been designed for intermediaries and service providers, non-domestic poultry, hunters, etc.
In 2004, FAO identified four poultry production sectors:
Sector 1 - industrial integrated production with birds or products marketed
Sector 2 - commercial poultry production with birds or products sold through slaughterhouses or live poultry markets.
Sector 3 - smallholder commercial poultry production, including water fowl, with birds or products usually sold through live-bird markets.
Sector 4 - village or backyard production with birds or products consumed locally.

Where they do not exist, appropriate biosecurity measures have to be designed and implemented; where they do exist, they may not be sufficiently effective or implemented widely enough. In either case, the bottom line is that any biosecurity measure must be practical and proportionate to the risk for which it was developed.

The practical design of biosecurity measures should be grounded firmly in three key considerations:

  • Biosecurity recommendations should be developed for all component parts of the domestic poultry and captive bird sector, including intermediaries and service providers.
  • In most locations, the emphasis should be on preventive biosecurity to decrease the risk of infection (bioexclusion), although biocontainment remains important.
  • Those who will implement biosecurity measures should be involved in their design to ensure that they are feasible and sustainable.

This latter consideration touches the core of what biosecurity is all about and without which any attempt to achieve effective and sustainable disease prevention and control will fail: stakeholder 'buy-in'.

Furthermore, planning for biosecurity must incorporate socio-economic analysis to help identify the social and cultural acceptability of proposed measures, the level of cost that people can afford to pay, and the regulations, incentives and penalties that may be appropriate to induce the behaviour change that will be necessary in many situations.

This analysis should address three fundamental questions:
  1. To whom are poultry important?
  2. What might/will people be prepared to do to improve biosecurity?
  3. How much can people afford to spend on biosecurity, who should pay for what, and what should be the balance between incentives and penalties that may be needed?

Economic assessment of biosecurity measures may be based on cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit analysis. Livelihoods analysis is useful for understanding the importance of poultry and motivations of people.

If this approach identifies how people perceive their own situation and the environment in which they act, communication builds on it and crafts ways of involving the people in biosecurity planning and implementation.

At all costs, communication must not be prescriptive, laying down rules on behaviours to practise and behaviours to avoid, but should take into account the complex interplay between risk perception, response, behavioural intent and message design.

One of the major contributions communication can make to the development of biosecurity lies in encouraging a shift from the naturalistic to the contagion/contamination approach to poultry sickness. Effective behaviour change communication must come to terms with and overcome the widespread perception that poultry sickness and death are natural, a perception that leads to lack of reporting sick and dead birds, lack of hygiene when handling poultry, and the consumption of sick and dead poultry.

At the same time, awareness of why the behaviour being promoted makes sense to the receiver of the message is key to behaviour change and must form part of any communication strategy. To make sense to a farmer, communication messages must be couched more in terms of personal values such as the wellbeing and prosperity of the family than in terms of technical rationale alone.

Furthermore, communication has a major role to play in the 'enabling environment' that must be created around biosecurity. It is an instrument of advocacy, stimulating policy-makers and media to rally round the importance of biosecurity, helping to create the supportive institutional framework within which individuals and communities can play their role.


Images by Saeed Khan; Hans Wagner; Paolo Pagani

Specific Issues and Options

While the paper looks at issues and solutions for different sectors in the poultry production and marketing chain, the lists are not exhaustive nor are they intended to be. They highlight a number of critical areas that should be addressed by biosecurity planners in these sectors: among the large- and small-scale producers, in the hatcheries, in the scavenging poultry context, in the duck raising units, in live bird markets, among the intermediaries and service providers, among the poultry fanciers, keepers of fighting cocks, exotic birds and birds of prey, and in the hunting communities.

Biosecurity for large-scale commercial producers (sectors 1 and 2)

  • There are strong incentives for large-scale commercial producers to adopt biosecurity measures; where necessary, governments can strengthen these incentives through regulation requiring that a given level of biosecurity be achieved in order to have access to markets.
  • Detailed methodologies for biosecurity at large-scale commercial farms are available from many sources; governments (perhaps in conjunction with producer associations where they exist) should work with producers to adapt these methodologies for the national context.
  • Governments should develop and maintain a database of large-scale commercial producers.
  • Governments and the poultry industry should work together to establish a system of compartmentalization where this is justified.

Biosecurity for small-scale commercial producers (sector 3)

  • Biosecurity should emphasize the creation of physical barriers against infection and to control access; this may require some public funding.
  • Cleaning of inanimate objects should be the second step.
  • Participatory field work is required to establish which biosecurity measures are feasible and sustainable, to produce and disseminate extension messages, and to monitor and report on uptake and impact of these messages.

Biosecurity for hatcheries

  • Day-old chicks (DOCs) are not infected at hatching but may be infected after hatching if biosecurity at the hatchery is poor.
  • Hatcheries are an essential part of the production and marketing chain; their continued operation is vital to commercial production, particularly of broiler chickens.
  • All hatcheries above a certain size should be registered and licensed.
  • Strict biosecurity is required because of the potential for wide dissemination of infection from a single hatchery.

Biosecurity for keepers of scavenging poultry

  • Scavenging poultry are by far the most numerous type of poultry flock, have been the type of flock most frequently affected by H5N1 HPAI, and have been a source of human illness - however, the risk of an individual flock being infected is no greater than for commercial flocks and in some situations, may be less.
  • Keepers of scavenging poultry cannot introduce effective biosecurity measures acting alone; community-led initiatives are necessary.
  • Any measure that is introduced must be locally sustainable (i.e. without repeated inputs from outside agencies) and with a minimum possible burden, in terms of costs and time, and in terms of initial and ongoing requirements.
  • Segregation will be difficult to implement in a system where poultry are free to roam, but housing scavenging poultry fundamentally changes the production system.
  • Sustainable use of disinfectants is unlikely.
  • Biosecurity will need to rely on cleaning.
  • Field work is needed to formulate recommendations that keepers of scavenging poultry will implement, taking into account their perception of risk and ability to invest resources in biosecurity; this is a challenge and should not be underestimated.

Biosecurity for domestic duck keepers

  • Duck keepers must implement the same bioexclusion measures as other poultry keepers.
  • They will also need to practise routine biocontainment because of the possibility of undetected infection.
  • Effective biosecurity for duck flocks that are part of the duck/rice system is probably not possible; biosecurity measures should be supplemented by licensing, movement control and vaccination.

Biosecurity for live bird markets (LBMs)

  • LBMs have been major contributors to H5N1 outbreaks, both as key mixing points and sources of disease spread; they have also been sources of human disease.
  • Biocontainment of infection is vital at these sites.
  • Biosecurity measures such as introducing rest days, limiting the species which can be sold at a market and the use of cleanable cages have been shown to have an impact on reducing the persistence of infection in LBMs.
  • LBMs can play a positive role in the control of H5N1 HPAI by acting as places where information can be disseminated and gathered, and active surveillance for disease/ virus can be carried out.
  • Closing LBMs should be undertaken with care because it could create informal and unknown markets, worsening the disease situation.

Biosecurity for intermediaries and service providers

  • Intermediaries and service providers have an interest in maintaining their own businesses and those of whom they work with.
  • They create links between different segments of the domestic poultry and captive bird sector, and constitute a key disease spread risk; they must implement adequate biosecurity measures.
  • Intermediaries and service providers have contacts with many producers and are often trusted sources of information; they can therefore act as disseminators of biosecurity messages and advocates for biosecurity plans.
  • There is a need to development appropriate and sustainable biosecurity measures to be applied by intermediaries and service providers, and to monitor their uptake and impact.
  • Regulation of intermediaries and service providers may be appropriate and should be considered.

Biosecurity for poultry fanciers, and keepers of fighting cocks, exotic birds and birds of prey

  • These bird keepers must be involved in any biosecurity programme.
  • Many are based in villages or peri-urban areas and should be part of the measures developed for small-scale commercial and/or scavenging poultry.
  • The trade in captured wild birds is large and difficult to regulate, and birds may become infected at any point after capture, including in markets; they should be regarded as an integral part of the domestic poultry and live-bird production and marketing chains, and included in biosecurity measures for these chains.

Biosecurity for hunters

  • Hunted wild birds have recently been shown to have played a role in introducing virus into domestic poultry; this finding requires further examination through detailed outbreak investigation.
  • Public awareness messages need to be produced both for hunters and their families and partners about this risk and how to avoid it.
  • Awareness messages should focus on advising hunters that the remains (feathers and internal organs) of hunted wild birds should be disposed of by burning or burying; they should not be disposed of in the environment where they could act as sources of infection for domestic poultry.

Towards Practical and Sustainable Biosecurity

If one recommendation were to sum up all the recommendations in this paper, this would be that biosecurity must be practical and sustainable for all – for producers, for traders, for intermediaries and service providers and for all those pursuing activities that could contain the seed of risk.

Designing feasible programmes of biosecurity will require working with all stakeholders to ensure that this happens and that those who will have to implement the measures accept the need to do so and see the benefits in doing so.

This will require veterinary technical expertise, but also the equally important contributions of socio-economists and communication specialists if practical and sustainable improvements in today’s standards of biosecurity are to be achieved.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.


December 2008