Prevention Is Your Best Measure Against Disease, By Stuart Heller Neogen


During the course of our day’s we come across many “universal truths. Two that stand out to me are, “don’t ask of others what you wouldn’t ask of yourself”, and “treat others as you’d like others to treat you.” But in my business life (the world of food-animal production) I have two favorites, “biosecurity doesn’t cost, it pay’s” and “prevention is your best measure against disease.”

Now, I’m a little biased. I’ve been in the disease prevention business since the mid 1980’s, manufacturing chemicals and developing programs to prevent the introduction of infectious disease in the poultry and pork production industries. But if you’re a poultry producer, these truths should also be important to you.

The importance of disease prevention, or biosecurity, cannot be overstated. We hear it discussed at every seminar and trade show we attend and read about it in every trade publication. Why? What makes it so important? Because at its core, the ability to prevent, rather than treat disease will enhance the health and performance of your birds. Knowing this, what are some of the ways we can improve upon existing biosecurity protocols to better prevent the introduction of disease?

Through the years I’ve called it “adding layers of biosecurity.” The idea is to create a perimeter around the farm or hatchery complex and assume that everything outside the perimeter poses a potential threat and to “treat” everything passing through accordingly. We accomplish this through things like;

  • Limiting visitation and people movement farm to farm
  • Installing “pass-through” windows for personal items (I.e. cell phones, tablets, lunch boxes/bags, etc.)
  • Installing footbaths at room/building entrances
  • Shower-in shower-out
  • …If that’s not available, then hand washing stations (Danish Entry Systems) that lso provide clean boots and coveralls
  • Disinfecting tires and undercarriages, especially of service vehicles
  • Disinfecting of incoming supplies (through fogging procedures)
  • During warm weather, we recommend the use of disinfectant in evaporative coolers and cool cell systems to prevent the introduction of aerosol virus. 

We spend a lot of time talking about the transportation sector. Why? Because this is the hub. At some point during the production process every egg or bird is transported somewhere on some type of vehicle: Eggs to the hatchery, chicks to the farm, and birds to the plant. The importance of breaking the cycle of cross-contamination here is critical. We know from our experience in pork production that there are huge amounts of time and resources devoted to trailer biosecurity. Every live haul trailer is flushed out to remove gross soils, high pressure washed for a more detailed cleaning, disinfected, and even heated or “baked” prior to loading. 

In poultry production this might translate into more intensive disinfection of trailers and transport crates, more attention paid to tires and undercarriages, and driver biosecurity protocols for entering and exiting vehicle; What type of protective footwear should they wear? If they’re wearing plastic pull-over boots, are they double layered? If they’re double layered, when does the outside boot get removed? Are we disinfecting chick busses and egg transport trucks after each delivery? These are all questions that need to be addressed when developing a strict, comprehensive biosecurity program.

Regarding hatchery sanitation, after each hatch our recommendations would be:

  • Dry cleaning (sweeping, brushing, vacuuming) to prevent the “kicking up” of dust and chick down that could spread disease throughout the hatchery.
  • Apply high foaming detergent to hatchers (typically chlorinated) to help remove stubborn yellow build-up and baked on chick down.  
  • Perform detailed pressure washing.
  • Apply disinfectant and allow it to air dry (foaming is the preferred application method to increase visibility and contact time.
  • Fog all rooms in the hatchery daily, preferably at the end of the day to reduce foot traffic through fogged areas. 
  • Rotate in an acid-based detergent periodically to descale fan blades in hatchers and heating coils and spray nozzles on tray wash machines – Scale build-up on heating coils and spray nozzles will compromise efficacy.

Recently, in response to HPAI outbreaks, we’ve been seeing a lot of “double disinfecting” during the depop/repop process …kind of like a safety net…“If I didn’t kill all the bugs the first time, I’ll get the rest of them the second time.”

Is it worth it? Is there real science behind it? Honestly, I don’t know. But if it makes producers rest easier, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

However, if they have made the decision to double disinfect, we believe it’s important to use two different chemistries, not just disinfect twice with the same product. 

At Neogen we have a very diverse offering of disinfectants, many of them proven effective v. HPAI. In my opinion, chemistries like oxidizing compounds and glut/quat combinations would be ideal complementary chemistries. 

We would recommend using them in a specific order, not just randomly, based on which one was handy at the time. We’d recommend using the oxidizer first. They typically have an acidic pH that will penetrate and remove biofilms, helping to remove the physical barriers that interfere with disinfection. We’d then follow up with a glut/quat compound (waiting at least a day in between), taking full advantage of their high detergency, broad spectrum, and extended germicidal activity. In combination, these chemistries would create a very difficult environment for the survival of HPAI and any other infectious disease.  

Biosecurity is not easy. There is not block box to hang on the wall, no button to push that addresses all the challenges. There are so many modes of transmission: People, birds, eggs, air, water, vehicles, equipment, rodents, insects, and more. 

The real challenge is to create a CULTURE of BIOSECURITY within the organization, so that employees don’t just carry out the tasks we’ve asked of them, but have a true understanding of the importance of biosecurity and the role they play in it.

An early mentor of mine, Dr. Harry Moberly said it best:   

“It is the nature of man to find cure more compelling than prevention. But in the science of biology, prevention is your best measure against disease.”