From Wyoming to Maine, an outbreak of highly contagious bird flu has ravaged backyard farms and herds in the United States this year, causing millions of chickens and turkeys to be slaughtered.
Iowa has been hit hard, with disasters reported in some counties and the state canceling live bird shows in an order that could affect its famous state fair.
This is what we know about bird flu.
What is bird flu?
Better known as bird flu, bird flu is a highly contagious and deadly virus that can prey on chickens, turkeys and wild birds, including ducks and geese. It spreads through nasal secretions, saliva and feces, which experts say make it difficult to contain.
Symptoms of the virus include a sudden increase in herd mortality, a decrease in egg production, and a decrease in feed and water consumption.
The virus, Eurasian H5N1, is closely linked to an Asian strain that has infected hundreds of people since 2003, most of whom had worked with infected poultry. Its prevalence in the United States is not unexpected, as outbreaks have been reported in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Should Humans Be Concerned About Being Infected?
The risk to humans is very low, said Ron Kean, an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Animal and Dairy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
“It’s not impossible for humans to have this virus, but it’s been quite rare,” said Professor Kean.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they had been monitoring people in the United States who were exposed to poultry and other infected birds. To date, no cases of H5N1 infection have been found among them, the CDC said.
Is it safe to eat birds and eggs?
Yes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has said poultry and well-prepared and cooked eggs should not pose a risk to consumers.
The likelihood of infected poultry entering the food chain is “extremely low,” the agency said. Under federal guidelines, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is responsible for inspecting all poultry sold to interstate and foreign trade. Inspectors must be present at all times during the slaughter process, according to the service, which noted that inspectors have free access to these facilities.
According to the inspection service, egg production facilities that are subject to federal regulation must undergo daily inspections once per shift. State inspection programs, which inspect poultry products sold only in the state in which they were produced, are also overseen by the USDA.
Due to the obligation to slaughter infected herds, experts say, the virus is primarily an animal health problem at this time.
However, the USDA recommends cooking poultry at an internal temperature of 165 Fahrenheit to reduce the potential for foodborne illness.
Can I expect to pay more for poultry products?
Egg prices soared when an outbreak wreaked havoc in the United States in 2014 and 2015. Recently, the average price of premium large white eggs has been “following a strong trend,” according to a national retail report of May 25. March published by the USDA. herds, experts said, may have some shortage of eggs. Prices for white and dark chicken meat were also rising, according to the USDA. Experts also warned that turkey prices could also become more volatile.
How is the virus detected?
Avian flu testing usually involves cleaning the mouth and trachea area of chickens and turkeys. Samples are sent to diagnostic laboratories for analysis.
Outbreaks have been reported in more than a dozen states.
As of March 31, the highly pathogenic form of bird flu had been detected in 22 states, according to a follow-up page maintained by the USDA.
According to the agency, the combined number of birds in the infected herds (commercial and backyard type) amounted to more than 22 million. A USDA spokesman confirmed that these birds should be slaughtered to prevent the spread of the virus.
Two commercial egg production facilities in Iowa, one in Buena Vista County and one in Osceola County, were the largest infected herds. Each consisted of more than 5 million chickens, the USDA said.
An egg producer in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, was the third largest infected herd, with more than 2.7 million chickens.
How do these outbreaks compare to previous ones?
The 2014 and 2015 outbreaks in the United States were blamed for $ 3 billion in losses to the agricultural sector and were considered the most destructive in the country’s history. Nearly 50 million birds died, either from the virus or from being slaughtered, most of them in Iowa or Minnesota.
The footprint of the current outbreak, which extends from the Midwest and the plains to northern New England, has raised concerns.
“I think we’re definitely seeing more geographic spread than we saw with 2014-2015,” said Dr. Andrew Bowman, an associate professor in Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine.
What can be done to stop the spread of the virus?
As early as last year, the USDA warned of the likelihood of an outbreak of bird flu and stressed a tightening of “biosecurity” measures to protect flocks of chickens and turkeys.
Biosafety measures include limiting access to herds and requiring agricultural workers to practice strict hygiene measures such as wearing disposable boots and gowns. Experts say sharing farm equipment can contribute to the spread of the virus. They can also farm workers who have contact with wild birds, even when hunting.
“Whether limiting access to food and water, even truck routes, or trying to limit the connections that could spread pathogens between herds are really important,” said Dr. Bowman. “At this point, every person who produces poultry needs to consider how to improve their biosecurity.”
Is it necessary to kill millions of chickens and turkeys?
Infected birds can experience complete paralysis, swelling around the eyes, and twisting of the head and neck, according to the USDA. The virus is so contagious, experts say, that there is no choice but to sacrifice infected herds.
Methods include spraying chickens and turkeys with a foam that causes suffocation. In other cases, carbon dioxide is used to kill birds, whose carcasses are usually composted or placed in a landfill.
“Maybe it’s more humane than letting them die of the virus,” said Professor Kean.