This season, highly pathogenic bird flu made its first appearance in commercial poultry flocks in the United States. It affected one turkey farm in South Dakota and one in Utah, and it sparked worries that there would be other outbreaks.
The avian influenza virus, which is fatal to commercial poultry, was identified in a flock of 47,300 turkeys in Jerauld County, South Dakota, on October 4, and at a farm with 141,800 birds in Sanpete County, Utah, last Friday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the disease attacked two turkey farms in the Dakotas in April, there have been no outbreaks among commercial flocks in the United States. To stop the bird flu from spreading, infected flocks are typically culled, and the farms are subsequently decontaminated.
Prior to this week, backyard flocks or wild birds like ducks, geese, and eagles had been the only recent sources of bird flu reports in the United States. The poultry industry is concerned about infections in wild birds even though they frequently do not exhibit symptoms of avian influenza because migratory birds can spread the illness to vulnerable commercial flocks. According to South Dakota State Veterinarian Beth Thompson, “I don’t doubt that we will have more cases,” on Tuesday. “Migration is just getting started, so if we’re done, I’d be very pleasantly surprised.”
According to USDA statistics, the bird flu outbreak last year cost U.S. poultry producers almost 59 million birds across 47 states, including turkeys, chickens reared for meat, and egg-laying chickens. This makes it the nation’s deadliest outbreak ever. Consumer prices for eggs and turkey increased as a result of the outbreak, which cost the government more than $660 million.
Nearly 51 million birds across 15 states were affected by an outbreak in 2015, which was dubbed the most expensive animal health disaster in American history and cost the government over $1 billion.
Human bird flu infections are comparatively uncommon and are not seen as a threat to food safety. Scientists worry that as the virus spreads to other animals, particularly certain mammals, it may adapt to transmit more readily among humans. The third human death from bird flu in Cambodia this year was reported this past week.
Agriculture officials saw this year’s incidents as being a component of the outbreak from the previous year, which made its way to the United States in February 2022 after originating in Europe. To reduce the risk of spread, the U.S. has periodically placed limitations on poultry imports from Europe. In contrast to 2015, according to Thompson, the virus never totally disappeared, and the strain that is currently circulating is practically the same as the one that spread then.
According to Bailee Woolstenhulme, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, “We’re just encouraging bird owners to make sure they’re increasing their biosecurity practises because avian flu is still out there and it’s easy to contract.”
However, producers have maintained high biosecurity for a number of years, and there isn’t much more that farmers can do to attempt to prevent the virus from infecting their flocks. The major goal is to stop wild bird droppings from entering poultry barns on the clothing and shoes of workers, as well as from hitchhiking on farm machinery, mice, tiny birds, and even dust particles.
According to Woolstenhulme, this was the first occurrence in Utah this year; however, 16 turkey farms, one egg farm, and a number of backyard flocks were afflicted in the state last year.
Producers in South Dakota lost close to 4 million birds last year. With over 16 million birds destroyed, Iowa was the worst-hit state, although there haven’t been any cases since March.