UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WHTM) – Avian Flu is still with us.

Since the first case in Pennsylvania was reported on a farm in Lancaster County in April of 2022, over 4 million chickens have had to be euthanized in the state to stop the spread of the disease. Nationally the toll is over 58 million birds. We’re now in the second year of the epidemic.

The disaster (there’s no other word for it) is spurring an increased emphasis on stringent biosecurity everywhere in the agricultural community, including farms, fairs, and shows. The Department of Animal Science in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences just announced a new program to spread knowledge of biosecurity to the young through the state’s 4-H program, by sponsoring a biosecurity kit for each of the 67 county 4-H programs in the state.

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According to Robert Mikesell, animal science teaching professor and undergraduate program coordinator, “the emergence of high-path avian influenza and the potential devastating impacts of other foreign animal diseases have heightened the importance of biosecurity at all production levels — including youth projects.”

Each kit will have a portable tote containing a biosecurity mat, disinfectant, and disposable shoe covers for use at public 4-H animal events, along with instructions for proper mat use and maintenance.

The biosecurity mat (also known as a disinfectant mat) included in the kit is 24-by-28 inches, and made of polyethylene mesh over a foam core.

“You pour disinfectant on the mat, and it absorbs the liquid,” Mikesell said. “As you step on the mat, it disinfects the bottom of your shoes.”

When placed at entrances or exits at agricultural facilities and exhibitions, this simple step plays a major role in controlling the spread of diseases and pathogens.

So why aim this effort specifically at 4-H? 4-H is America’s largest youth development organization, with nearly 6 million young people. Starting with local groups in the late 1800s it became part of the Cooperative Extension System at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914. In Pennsylvania, 4-H is administered by Penn State Extension.

4-H has long been a place where kids with an interest in agriculture can learn new ideas. Capri Stiles-Mikesell, 4-H biosecurity and animal welfare educator says “Youth prove more receptive to change than adults, and they serve as excellent advocates for the animal production industry,” She would like to see the biosecurity campaign “Be WISE ( watch, isolate, sanitize and educate)— Be Biosecure” be part of the change.

“Most people see biosecurity as a response when a disease event occurs,” Stiles-Mikesell said. “But we need to change that mindset. Biosecurity needs to be every day, every time and everywhere you have animals. It costs more to treat a disease than to prevent it.”

(This article is primarily sourced from a press release from Penn State. To read the release, click here.)

To learn more about 4-H, click here.

To find your local 4-H program, click here.