Two Sussex County men have developed an on-the-go method to quickly test chickens for bird flu, which could help protect Delmarva’s $3.2 billion poultry industry.
Currently, every flock of chickens is randomly sampled for bird flu before it is processed. Growers can also have testing done if they suspect bird flu is present on their farm.
But that testing requires a saliva sample be sent to a lab near Georgetown. It can take three to five days to get results.
Robert Hilliard is the co-creator of the Mobile Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory. He and his partner Michael Triglia developed their lab to shrink that timetable by bringing the test to the growers.
When it comes to getting results, time is of the essence, Hilliard said.
“Once there is an outbreak there's a six-mile quarantine. So within that six-mile quarantine for 30 days, every house in that area needs to be tested. And they can’t wait three to five days,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard and Triglia’s testing method has one person swab a chicken’s glands and put a sample in a well. Another person then breaks the sample down on a plate reader to determine the results within minutes.
Once they finish testing one chicken house, they put on a new biotech suit to go to the next one to avoid spreading possible signs of bird flu. Hilliard and Triglia said even the truck towing the pod, and the pod itself, are washed down, making sure there’s no possibility for cross contamination to occur.
Initially, they conceived creating a mobile unit to help with military communication, but Triglia said they saw another possibility and shifted their focus to developing a mobile lab to test for bird flu, which is a concern to many Delmarva farmers.
“There’s also three to four states — in the beginning of this summer — that had a major outbreak. So we’re looking to be an all-across solution, not just Delmarva,” Triglia said.
They would like to deploy the lab locally in late fall to early winter when migration season for waterfowl kicks off. Some birds carry the virus in their feces. Farmers worry the virus can reach their farms when a goose flies nearby.
Triglia said they’d like to hire military veterans for their company, offering them an opportunity to get back into the workforce
The last time Delmarva had a major bird flu outbreak was in 2004.