From Wyoming to Maine, an outbreak of highly contagious bird flu has engulfed farms and herds in backyards in the United States this year, killing millions of chickens and turkeys.
Iowa was particularly hard hit, with disasters declared in some counties and the state canceling live bird shows in a way that could affect the famous state fair.
Here’s what we know about bird flu.
What is avian influenza?
Better known as bird flu, avian influenza is a highly contagious and deadly virus that can prey on chickens, turkeys and wild birds, including ducks and geese. It is spread through nasal secretions, saliva and faecal faeces, which experts say makes it difficult to retain.
Symptoms of the virus include a sudden increase in herd mortality, a decline in egg production and reduced consumption of feed and water.
The virus, Eurasian H5N1, is closely linked to an Asian strain that has infected hundreds of people since 2003, mostly those who have worked with infected poultry. Its spread in the United States is not unexpected, with outbreaks previously reported in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Should people worry that they will be infected?
The risk to humans is very low, said Ron Keane, an associate professor and extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.
“It’s not impossible for people to get this virus, but it’s quite rare,” said Professor Keane.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had observed people in the United States who were exposed to infected poultry and other birds. No cases of H5N1 infection have been found so far, the CDC said.
Is it safe to eat poultry and eggs?
Yes, according to the US Department of Agriculture, which said that properly prepared and cooked poultry and eggs should not pose a risk to consumers.
The probability of infected poultry entering the food chain is “extremely low”, the agency said. According to federal guidelines, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the USDA, is responsible for inspecting all poultry sold in interstate and foreign trade. Inspectors must be present at all times during the slaughter process, according to the service, which noted that inspectors have unimpeded access to these facilities.
Egg production facilities that are subject to federal regulation must be inspected once a day, according to the inspection service. State inspection programs that inspect poultry products sold only in the state in which they were produced are additionally monitored by the USDA.
Due to the mandatory killing of infected herds, experts say the virus is a major animal health problem at the moment.
However, the USDA recommends cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 Fahrenheit to reduce the potential for foodborne illness.
Can I expect to pay more for poultry products?
Egg prices rose when an epidemic devastated the United States in 2014 and 2015. Recently, the average price of first-class large white eggs has been “needs to go up,” according to a March 25 national retail report released by the USDA. go through more herds, experts said, there may be some shortage of eggs. Prices for white and dark chicken are also rising, according to USDA Experts also warn that turkey prices may also become more volatile.
How is the virus detected?
Testing for bird flu usually involves swabbing the mouth and tracheal 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 has been detected in 22 states, according to a tracking page maintained by the USDA.
The total number of birds in the infected flocks – commercial and backyard – is more than 22 million, according to the agency. A USDA spokesman confirmed that these birds would have to be euthanized to prevent the virus from spreading.
Two commercial egg production facilities in Iowa, one in Buena Vista County and the other in Osceola County, are the largest infected herds. Each is made up of more than 5 million chickens, the USDA said.
An egg producer in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, was the third largest infected flock with more than 2.7 million chickens.
How do these outbreaks compare to previous ones?
The 2014 and 2015 explosions in the United States were blamed for $ 3 billion in losses to the agricultural sector and were considered the most devastating in the nation’s history. Nearly 50 million birds have died either from the virus or from the need to destroy them, most of them in Iowa or Minnesota.
The imprint of the current outbreak, stretching from the Midwest and the plains to northern New England, has raised concerns.
“I think we certainly see a greater geographical spread than we saw in 2014-2015,” said Dr. Andrew Bowman, an associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University.
What can be done to stop the spread of the virus?
As early as last year, the USDA warned of the possibility of an outbreak of bird flu and stressed the need to strengthen “biosecurity” measures to protect flocks of chickens and turkeys.
Biosecurity measures include restricting access to herds and requiring agricultural workers to apply strict hygiene measures such as wearing disposable boots and overalls. According to experts, the sharing of agricultural machinery could contribute to the spread of the virus. The same can be said for agricultural workers who come into contact with wild birds, including when hunting.
“Whether it’s restricting access from where we deliver food and water, even truck routes, how we try to limit those connections that can spread pathogens between herds is really important,” Dr. Bowman said. “At this point, everyone who produces poultry should consider how to improve their biosecurity.
Is it necessary to kill millions of chickens and turkeys?
Infected birds could be completely paralyzed, swollen around the eyes and head and neck distorted, according to the USDA. The virus is so contagious, experts say, with no choice but to destroy infected flocks.
Methods include spraying chickens and turkeys with foam that causes suffocation. In other cases, carbon dioxide is used to kill birds whose carcasses are often composted or landfilled.
“It can be said that it is more humane than letting them die from the virus,” said Professor Keane.