Contacts between people, equipment and vehicles prior and during outbreak situations are critical to determine the possible source of infection of a farm. Hired laborers are known to play a big role in interconnecting farms. Once a farm is infected, culling entire flock is the only option to prevent further spreading with devastating consequences for the industry.
In this paper, based on the HPAI outbreak in Holland 2003, the researchers found that 32 farms hired external labor of which seven accessed other poultry on the same day.
However, they were not the only ‘connectors’ as some (twelve) farmers also reported themselves helping on other poultry farms. Furthermore, 27 farms had family members visiting poultry or poultry-related businesses of which nine entered poultry houses during those visits. The other enhancing factor of farm interconnections was the reported ownership of multiple locations for ten of the interviewed farms and the reported on-premises sale of farm products on one pullet and eight layer farms. Also worth mentioning is the practice of a multiple age system reported on eight of the interviewed farms as this may increase the risk of infecting remaining birds when off-premises poultry movements occur.
AI viruses may be introduced into poultry from reservoirs such as aquatic wild birds but the mechanisms of their subsequent spread are partially unclear. Transmission of the virus through movements of humans (visitors, servicemen and farm personnel), vectors (wild birds, rodents, insects), air- (and dust-) related routes and other fomites (e.g., delivery trucks, visitors’ clothes and farm equipment) have all been hypothesized.
It is therefore hypothesized that the risk of introducing the virus to a farm is determined by the farm’s neighborhood characteristics, contact structure and its biosecurity practices. On the one hand, neighborhood characteristics include factors such as the presence of water bodies (accessed by wild birds), the density of poultry farms (together with the number and type of birds on these farms) and poultry-related businesses and the road network. The use of manure in the farm’s vicinity is also deemed to be risky.
On the other hand, contact structure risk factors include the nature and frequency of farm visits. Therefore, a detailed analysis of the contact structure, including neighborhood risks, and biosecurity practices across different types of poultry farms and poultry-related businesses helps the improvement of intervention strategies, biosecurity protocols and adherence to these, as well as contact tracing protocols. Farmers’ perception of visitor- and neighborhood-associated risks of virus spread is also important due to its relevance to adherence with biosecurity protocols, to contact tracing and to communicating advice to them.
The between-farm virus transmission risks may be split into two categories:
2. Onward-spread risks
The former entail the target farm’s exposure through incoming contacts (human and fomite), through inputs such as feed and egg trays and through neighborhood-related risks such as air-borne contamination.
The latter can be through farm outputs (waste and non-waste), outgoing contacts (human and fomite) and contamination of the neighborhood (e.g., through emissions from the farm). Therefore, all day-to-day farm activities involving people and/or materials and/or equipment going in or out of the farm were systematically analyzed.