The number of Iowa chicken and turkey farms either confirmed or presumed to be affected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus climbed again this week. Four new "bird flu" outbreaks were reported Monday, May 4, and three more on Tuesday. On Wednesday six more probable cases were reported in Iowa. Two more were reported on Thursday. Additional testing on these flocks was conducted at USDA's National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames.
If these latest cases reported on Thursday are confirmed as bird flu, they will push the number to 37 for total outbreaks of bird flu in Iowa since the first case was reported here in mid-April, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
First time an outbreak in a backyard flock has been reported
When the six cases were announced Wednesday, May 6 by the state ag department and USDA, it included Iowa's first outbreak in a backyard flock: ducks in O'Brien County. The other outbreaks reported Wednesday were at three large commercial egg laying operations and a pullet farm with young hens, all in Sioux County.
As of Thursday, a total of 37 poultry operations in the state (turkey, chicken and now duck flocks) have been infected or have likely been infected with the highly pathogenic H5N2 virus. This disease can quickly kill chickens and turkeys.
Bird flu has badly shaken the Midwest poultry industry, which has lost nearly 28 million chickens and turkeys already. USDA has confirmed outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza virus on more than 100 Midwest poultry farms since early March. Minnesota and Iowa are the hardest hit states.
More than a third of Iowa's egg-laying hens to be euthanized
As of May 7, more than 20 million infected hens and turkeys in Iowa are scheduled to be destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed, in an effort to try to keep the virus from spreading to other locations. About 19.5 million of these birds are laying hens and about 500,000 are turkeys.
Iowa is the largest egg producing state in the nation, with about 60 million laying hens. Over one-third of Iowa's egg laying flock will be euthanized, according to the latest count of confirmed cases by the Iowa Department of Agriculture. "The 20 million chickens to be destroyed is one-third of the state's egg-laying flock that's been infected in the last three weeks. That is indeed significant; this disease moves quickly," says Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association.
On Tuesday, May 5 a large commercial egg producer, Rose Acre Farms, said it is depopulating its Winterset egg-laying operation after the virus was discovered at that facility last week. An estimated 1.5 million birds will be destroyed "to combat the risk of spreading avian influenza to other locations," said Tony Wesner, chief operating officer for Rose Acre Farms. He said the company is closely monitoring all of its facilities, but none of its other operations have been infected -- not yet anyway.
Officials say risk to humans from bird flu virus is low
State and federal health officials consider the risk to humans from this virus to be low. No human infections of H5N2 influenza have been detected and there is no food safety risk for consumers. Infected poultry operations in Iowa this spring have been in Buena Vista and Sioux counties, along with Cherokee, Clay, Kossuth, Madison, O'Brien, Osceola, Pocahontas, Sac and Wright counties. Commercial and backyard flocks of poultry within 6.2 miles of the infected flocks are quarantined and tested.
The virus is believed to be spread by migratory birds such as ducks and geese that leave their droppings on farms. Some veterinarians and others have speculated that farmworkers unknowingly are transporting bird flu, or it is also spreading on dust or bird feathers blown by the wind.
Iowa declares state of emergency as bird flu spreads
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad last week declared a state of emergency for all of Iowa after a significant increase in the number of the state's poultry farms were hit with bird flu. "This particular avian flu outbreak is a disaster emergency that we need to take very seriously," says Branstad. "We need to do everything we can to try to minimize the loss, to help the people who are affected." The declaration of emergency means there will be a larger coordinated effort of state and federal agencies, he says.
Branstad says the avian flu outbreak is the worst animal-related disaster situation in memory. "Not in all the years I've been involved in state government have we had a disaster situation affecting our poultry industry like this. This is a magnitude much greater than anything we've dealt with in animal agriculture in recent modern times."
Hotline established: A new hotline has been set-up to help answer concerns from Iowa residents and poultry producers at 800-447-1985. The Iowa Concern Hotline is available 24 hours a day. All calls are free and confidential, and operators are willing to assist wherever possible.
As state officials receive final confirmations of the disease reports each day from USDA's testing lab, updated information will be posted on the Iowa Department of Ag & Land Stewardship's website iowaagriculture.gov/avianinfluenza.asp.