Deadly bird flu is re-emerging in U.S. commercial poultry flocks in Utah and South Dakota

A disease has been detected on a Utah farm with more than 141,000 birds.

(Charlie Neibergall | AP) A turkey stands in a barn at a turkey farm near Manson, Iowa, on August 10, 2015. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that avian influenza (avian influenza), fatal to commercial poultry, was confirmed last Wednesday, October 4, 2023, in a flock of 47,300 turkeys in Jerauld County, South Dakota, and in a farm with 141,800 turkey birds in Sanpete County in Utah last Friday, October 6th.

Minneapolis • Highly pathogenic avian influenza appeared for the first time in commercial poultry flocks in the United States this season, affecting a turkey farm in South Dakota and one in Utah.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that avian influenza, which is fatal to commercial poultry, was confirmed in a flock of 47,300 turkeys in Jerauld County, South Dakota, on Oct. 4 and in a 141,800-bird farm in Sanpete County, Utah, last Friday became.

The outbreaks are the first reported in commercial flocks in the U.S. since the disease struck two turkey farms in the Dakotas in April. Infected herds are usually destroyed to prevent the spread of influenza and then the farms are decontaminated.

Before last week, there had been only sporadic reports of bird flu in the U.S. in recent months, occurring in backyard flocks or in wild birds such as ducks, geese and eagles. While wild birds often show no symptoms of avian influenza, infections among them pose a problem for the poultry industry because migratory birds can spread the disease to vulnerable commercial flocks.

Bird flu cost U.S. poultry producers nearly 59 million birds in 47 states last year, including egg-laying chickens, turkeys and meat chickens. According to the USDA, this was the deadliest outbreak ever in the country. The outbreak caused a spike in egg and turkey prices for consumers and cost the government over $660 million.

The death toll from a 2015 outbreak, considered the costliest animal health disaster in U.S. history and costing the government more than $1 billion, was nearly 51 million birds in 15 states.

Avian influenza infections in humans are relatively rare and are not considered a food safety risk. But because it also affects other species, including some mammals, scientists fear the virus could evolve to spread more easily among humans. Cambodia this week reported its third human death from bird flu this year.

Agriculture officials believe this year’s cases are part of last year’s outbreak, which reached the United States in February 2022 after spreading in Europe. The US has periodically introduced restrictions on poultry imports from Europe to limit the risk of spread.

“We just encourage bird owners to make sure they improve their biosecurity practices because bird flu is still around and it’s easy to get infected,” said Bailee Woolstenhulme, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

However, producers have maintained their biosecurity stringently for several years and there is little more farmers can do other than the measures they have already taken to try to keep the virus out of their herds. The main strategy is to prevent wild bird feces from entering poultry houses through workers’ shoes and clothing or hitching a ride on farm machinery, mice, small birds and even dust particles.

This was Utah’s first case this year, Woolstenhulme said, but last year the state affected 16 turkey farms, one egg farm and several backyard flocks.

South Dakota producers lost nearly 4 million birds last year. Iowa, the hardest-hit state with nearly 16 million birds lost, has not recorded a case since March.

Justin Scaccy

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