SWABBING drinkers could offer an early warning that avian influenza is circulating in a flock, according to research from German farms.

Sampling from drinkers on turkey farms conducted by turkey breeder Moorgut Kartzfehn has suggested it could prove an effective early detection of the disease.

See also: Latest EU avian flu analysis reports fewer cases but more focus on mammalian detections

Detecting the disease as early as possible is a priority for producers and authorities both to maximise compensation for losses and control further spread.

Dr Barbara Storck, presenting a paper at the Turkey Science and Production conference, said the method was simple for farm staff and offered a high degree of statistical certainty.

“At least 100 animals visit a drinker within two hours – samples from 10 drinkers per swab are possible, a pool of 10 swabs is possible in the laboratory, meaning 10,000 turkeys involved in one sample.”


Also speaking at the conference, the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s Ian Brown agreed the research could have the potential for surveillance – particularly if vaccination is introduced. Though he added more research would be needed.

He said that data from the APHA had suggested flocks hit by avian influenza record a drop in water consumption before confirmation of disease, a potentially important flag for infection.

More broadly, he highlighted the risk turkey producers faced from the prevalent strain of avian influenza.


Turkeys are as susceptible to infection as ducks – but for turkeys, the disease is lethal. Half a fingernail’s worth of infected particulate matter is enough to kill every bird on a farm. “You have to think about that in terms of your biosecurity,” Prof Brown said.

That could be brought in on boots, clothing, bedding or equipment brought into a shed, he added.

Looking ahead

Prof Brown said the outbreak appeared to have peaked for the moment – and wild bird immunity should increase – meaning the risk could decrease by next winter.

However, he added: “My concern is that there’s something else ready to replace it. I would say the risk is pretty high that the virus is going to return. Whether it will return on the same scale  – possibly not.”