Avian flu: Hygiene protects

Recently another new strain of the influenza virus was discovered, this time in Germany. The avian influenza caused by this virus is highly contagious and means high economic losses for poultry farmers in the event of an outbreak in their own livestock. However, the disease can be prevented with strict bio-security and meticulous cleaning.

Barn full of poultry

Highly contagious virus infection

The avian flu caused by the highly pathogenic influenza virus – also called bird flu and highly pathogenic influenza viral infection – is very infectious and usually follows a fatal course. Serious epidemics are frequent. Owing to the high mutation rate, there are so far no vaccines that can be of practical use, and the risk of the virus spreading to humans – as has already happened in Asia – is always present.

Whether egg or meat production, organic or conventional livestock farming, or big or small stalls and sheds: When avian flu breaks out, the only response is the emergency slaughter of the affected animals, resulting in economic loss for the owners. In the struggle against the disease, poultry keepers must therefore aim at prevention. The key here is bio-security – a cross-cutting task that covers the planning of operational facilities and behavioural rules for employees, as well as meticulous cleaning with suitable equipment.

Interrupting transmission paths

The virus enters the sheds or stalls in various ways, which can be effectively countered with meticulous hygiene. Poultry keepers should look at the following transmission paths:

Wild birds are the most important carriers of the virus. Poultry keepers cannot one hundred per cent prevent sick wild birds from flying over their premises or landing there, leaving behind excrement, feathers, down and contaminated food remains, which could all then be carried into the sheds and stalls by people, equipment or machines, or by the wind.

However, the risk of infection from wild birds is lower if the farm is unattractive for such wild birds - i.e. because there's no food lying around, and also no dirt, which the birds would at least check for food. Similarly, food and equipment stores, as well as the sheds and stalls themselves, should be made safe from wild birds by covering all open storage sites and sealing all cracks, gaps and holes. Doors and gates should be kept closed at all times in order to prevent wild birds from flying into the buildings.

Vehicles are another source of danger, as it is not clear where livestock transporters or food suppliers have been previously, or if they are carrying a virus in the tread of tyres.


An additional risk comes from humans. Any person entering the shed or stall – the owner himself, working family members, employees – can infect the birds with avian flu. Either by carrying the virus on skin, hair, clothing or shoes. Or on anything a person might intentionally carry into the shed or stall, or even without thinking: From animal feed, straw/hay, distraction material and equipment, as well as contaminated food.

Therefore, the clear separation of the outer, dirty ("black") areas and the inner, clean ("white") areas is important. The transition must be provided with all the cleaning equipment necessary in order to ensure that viruses are kept out.

Despite all precautionary measures, the virus can also lurk in the stalls and sheds themselves. This may be the case if, for example, initially only a few birds are infected, which goes unnoticed because the animals were ready for slaughter and were taken away. It is therefore essential that, whenever the populations are changed, the site is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.  


Observing regulations for bio-security

At least in the EU, a lot has been achieved if poultry keepers strictly adhere to the regulations for bio-security. An important contact partner for the details of implementation is the vet.

Many measures for protection against bird flu involve the organisation of the facility: Who has access to the site and the sheds and stalls, where can vehicles go, stop and load or unload, where and how are animal feed and equipment stored? And how is compliance with the rules ensured: written schedules, instructions and inspections by supervisors, fences, doors and gates, cameras, security staff? All of these are good starting points for ensuring that the regulations concerning access and hygiene are followed.

Most important protective measure: Hygiene

A decisive aspect of hygiene is cleaning. Here, the important thing is to know and use the most effective methods for the respective purpose. This includes sufficient frequency and appropriate cleaning routines, correct procedures and - also very important from a business point of view - efficient equipment.

Clean stable environment

Hygiene for outdoor areas

The prevention of avian flu starts already with the construction of the operating facilities. Ideally, the entire provision and waste disposal of the facility – delivery of young animals, feed and equipment, as well as the collection of eggs, slaughter animals and carcasses – should be effected from outside of the operating facility using ramps and line connections. There should also be connections provided for hot water high-pressure cleaners in the vicinity of the loading and unloading stations.

If vehicles need to drive onto the site, it is recommended that separate approach and departure routes be specified. The effort is worthwhile – not least, because the use of wash plates and disinfection sluices is more effective if approach and departure routes are separated.

The wash plates should be located as far as possible from the stalls and sheds. The prevalent wind direction should also be taken into account, as spray and mist may otherwise carry the virus into the stalls and sheds.

The routine and appropriate cleaning of the outdoor facilities is also important. In the farmyard areas between the buildings, manually guided and ride-on sweepers remove dust and dirt more effectively than any broom, and thus facilitate and reduce the workload considerably. Where the ground is smooth enough, you can also use wet and dry vacuum cleaners in outdoor areas. A mechanically cleaned farm provides hardly any incentive for wild birds to land, and thus significantly restricts a major source of infection. 

Stable cleaning with Kärcher hot water high-pressure cleaner

Indoors: Different equipment for black and white areas

Disinfection mats should be placed before all entrances. The disinfectant should be regularly replaced, and also the areas around the mats must be cleaned.

Modern poultry sheds are shielded from the outside world by means of a hygiene sluice, in which all visitors to the shed take a shower and change their clothing before entering. The sluices can perform their function only if the inner area in particular (the so-called white area) is kept clean.

The cleaning process must be carried out first in the white and then in the black area. In the white area, steam cleaners and wet and dry vacuum cleaners ensure effective and, at the same time, time-saving cleaning. In addition to walls, floors and shower rooms, furniture also has to be cleaned, for example lockers and items such as shoes. For the "black" changing rooms, cloakrooms, administration areas and such, scrubber driers have proven to be effective, and can achieve good results with cold water and detergent in a short time.

Cleaning equipment and tools, as well as work shoes, should not be taken out of the sheds. Only working clothes may be taken away in sealed containers directly to the central washing machine. In the event of large quantities of shed laundry, it is recommended that a separate washing machine be provided for the mostly heavily soiled shed clothing.

Hot water high-pressure cleaners for shed cleaning save time

For the cleaning of sheds, including floors, walls, ceiling, aviaries and perches, including cages - depending on national regulations - as well as feeding facilities, hot water high-pressure cleaners are the first choice. As hot water loosens dirt with its viruses and bacteria much better than cold water, one thorough cleaning process using hot water at a temperature of 85 degrees is sufficient: This procedure saves up to 40 per cent cleaning time per shed – even without detergent. In addition, surfaces cleaned with hot water dry faster, allowing the subsequent disinfection to be started earlier.

High levels of bio-security are achieved by stationary high-pressure cleaners installed in the sheds, which are available at all times and do not need to be transported within the sheds or even from shed to shed (which can spread germs). However, smaller facilities can also ensure a high standard of hygiene with mobile equipment. Nevertheless, the mobile cleaning machines must always be kept outside or in the anteroom, and each shed building should also have its own hoses with trigger gun and lance.

Woman cleans a stable with a hot water high-pressure cleaner

Documentation and training

It is recommended that the time saved by efficient cleaning procedures should be used for inspection of the sheds for building damage, and for repairing any damage found. For cracks, gaps and holes are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, and points of entry for rodents and insects, which can also bring in pathogens and must therefore be regularly combated.

Furthermore, poultry keepers should document all hygiene measures in order to retain an overview – and instruct their employees on the necessary cleaning routines. The choice of cleaning equipment that is easy to operate saves time required for training.

The above-stated measures will not only reduce the risk that a poultry population will one day be diagnosed with avian flu – they will also protect the animals against other infectious diseases.

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