There are key moments in everyone’s career, when chance meetings and discussions lead to breakthroughs that could never have been anticipated. One of those happened to me in 2014, when I met Nick Meakin of Aqualution UK.

Nick majors in disinfection, especially in finding solutions for agriculture and food production. Some years previously he had put forward ideas for water disinfection for gamebirds but had had little response so moved on. However, times change and those of you who have read my articles on water hygiene will know how important this, and how since the Game Industry has taken this on board (see www.southdownsvets.co.uk for a range of my articles including “tackling rotavirus) significant welfare progress has been made.

Through 2013 I had taken on a large group of clients suffering huge losses each year from Rotavirus in chicks. The problems had been endemic over some years, with little seemingly that could be done. Surviving poults reared erratically, with huge veterinary bills being the result.

Traditionally Gamebirds are reared in wooden sheds, often constructed out of ply, and disinfection seemed almost impossible, as small amounts of dirt and feaces cling to the small crevices and cracks in the already porous surfaces. Clearly this had to carry infection over from year to year as sites are depopulated, cleaned and left for many months between rearing cycles. Nick was pretty certain his Solosan product, based on stabilised hypochlorous acid, could be used to disinfect for viruses if misted using atomisers to reduce droplet size. Even better, toxicity calculations suggested that we could also mist with heaters running and birds present in the sheds. Furthermore (apart from the initial machinery required) the costs would be on the low side – always good when persuading clients to try something novel.

A few keen clients decided to run with our ideas, invested in machines for misting, and off we went. The results were truly staggering! The anticipated high mortalities did not materialise. Mortality was nowhere near recent historic levels for the first time in years, and over the next few years on a number of sites we found results just got better still in the subsequent years of the protocol.

What truly convinced us though was the impact of protocol failures. If misting machines broke down, or if the designed protocol was not followed, then Rotavirus symptoms would recur and it would then take a couple of weeks to get a site back on track. So it wasn’t a cure, but it was a solution.

It is notoriously difficult to record exact data when traditional rearing sites have many small wooden sheds. Biosecurity is often not great due to the workflows and time pressures, and clients just happy with the ongoing results move on to resolving the next issue. So it was particularly exciting to take on a site where the birds were reared in new, clean, automated and state of the art poultry houses. Even with these factilites, this site had suffered near 34% mortality year on year due to Rotovirus problems. Bigger misting machines and more industrial style infrastructure was needed, which Nick came up with by adapting equipment being used by large food retailers for disinfecting fruit. Results – In year one; until the last 2 weeks of chicks, mortality was down to 2.1% including expected starve-outs! This crept up the last few weeks to just over 3% possibly due to the number of age groups being reared and the associated cross contamination. But all in all an astonishing result.

Over time we have adapted and tweaked protocols and methods but are now at the stage where we regard endemic Rotavirus as a nuisance rather than a disaster.

Of course this has led to looking at other ways we might improve hygiene at other stages in the process of rearing birds. Using Solosan stabilised hypochlorous acid we have:

Adapted Hatchery practices to incorporate fogging of eggs before setting, fogging during incubation, and cleaning incubators and hatchers between batches. Results from batch swabbing of pheasant chicks on hatching observably show less prevalence of pathogenic bacteria, and we have reduced the use of antibiotics in early rear as a result.

With Duck hatching, modifications of the cleaning processes and egg collection, along with similar protocols in the hatchery have led to near 80% hatches from eggs set, which is significantly better than the expected 65% on which planning calculations were based before. This has allowed a reduction in the required number of laying hens kept, reducing food bills and other costs, as well as decreasing antibiotic use.

We have removed from procedures all toxic chemicals used for cleaning the machines in the hatchery and sterilising egg surfaces before setting.

We have sterilised and cleaned bacterially infected water systems

We have treated non-responding batches of Mycoplasma infected Partridge by adding in fogging of the birds with near complete resolution of symptoms over 48 hours (Note: we would now cull the birds rather than treat due to research informing decision making on this disease since)

We have treated ORT infected Turkeys that became sick close to culling time with fogging and they recovered well and in time for Christmas.

In the practice, we use the chemical for consulting room and theatre cleaning and disinfection, hand disinfection during the recent worldwide crisis, as routine for wound cleaning and disinfection, in cleaning of canine otitis media and for treatment of mild cases, and we fog ourselves with any symptoms of cold or flu with seemingly excellent results

In our experience stabilised hypochlorous acid HOCl has measurably improved our results in practice, improved animal welfare by reducing mortality, reduced use of antibiotics and has provided us with an inexpensive sustainable and environmentally sound solution for day to day cleaning and disinfection in the clinic. Edinburgh University Veterinary Hospital and the Roslin Institute also widely use Solosan with similar results.