What to know about the avian flu epidemic

From Wyoming to Maine, a highly contagious avian flu outbreak has hit farms and backyard farms across the United States this year, prompting millions of chickens and turkeys to be culled.

Iowa has been particularly affected, with disasters declared in some counties and the state canceling live bird exhibits in an order that could affect its famous state fair.

Here’s what we know about 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 faecal excrement, which experts believe make it difficult to contain.

Symptoms of the virus include a sudden increase in flock mortality, a drop in egg production, and reduced feed and water consumption.

The virus, Eurasian H5N1, is closely related to an Asian strain that has infected hundreds of people since 2003, mostly those who had worked with infected poultry. Its prevalence in the United States is not unexpected, with previously reported outbreaks in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The risk to humans is very low, said Ron Kean, a University of Wisconsin faculty associate and extension specialist at the Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

‘It is not impossible for humans to contract this virus, but it has been quite rare,’ said Professor Kean.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they monitored people in the United States who had been exposed to infected poultry and other birds. No cases of H5N1 infection have been found among them so far, the CDC said.

Yes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which said properly prepared and cooked poultry and eggs shouldn’t pose a risk to consumers.

The chance of infected poultry entering the food chain is “extremely low,” the agency said. Under 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 always be present during the slaughter process, according to the service, which noted that inspectors have free access to such facilities.

Egg production facilities subject to federal regulation are required to undergo daily inspections once per shift, according to the Inspection Service. State inspection programs, which inspect poultry products sold only within the state in which they were produced, are also monitored by the USDA

Due to the mandatory culling of infected flocks, experts say, the virus is primarily an animal health problem right now.

However, the USDA recommends cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Egg prices soared when an outbreak devastated the United States in 2014 and 2015. Recently, the average price of premium large white eggs was “soaring,” according to a national retail report on March 25. published by the USDA. flocks, experts said, there may be some egg shortages. Prices for white and dark chicken were also rising, USDA experts also warned that turkey prices could also become more volatile.

Testing for avian flu typically involves swabs of the mouth and tracheal area of ​​chickens and turkeys. Samples are sent to diagnostic laboratories for analysis.

As of March 31, the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza had been detected in 19 states, a USDA managed monitoring page showed.

According to the agency, the combined number of birds in the infected commercial and backyard flocks amounted to over 17 million. A USDA spokesperson confirmed that the birds should be euthanized to prevent the spread of the virus.

A commercial egg production facility in Buena Vista County, Iowa, made up the largest infected flock and consisted of more than 5.3 million chickens, the USDA said.

An egg producer in Jefferson County, Wisconsin was next on the list, with over 2.7 million chickens. A flock of commercial poultry in New Castle County, Del., Was the third largest infected flock, with over 1.1 million chickens.

The outbreak in 2014 and 2015 in the United States was blamed for $ 3 billion in agricultural losses and was considered the most destructive in the nation’s history. Nearly 50 million birds have died from the virus or from having to be culled, most of them in Iowa or Minnesota.

The footprint of the current outbreak, which extends from the Midwest and lowlands to northern New England, has raised concerns.

“I think we are definitely seeing more geographic spread than we have seen in 2014-2015,” said Dr. Andrew Bowman, an associate professor at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Already last year, the USDA warned of the likelihood of an outbreak of avian flu and stressed the tightening of “biosecurity” measures to protect flocks of chickens and turkeys.

Biosecurity measures include restricting access to flocks and requiring agricultural workers to practice strict hygiene measures such as wearing disposable boots and coveralls. Sharing agricultural equipment, experts say, can contribute to the spread of the virus. So can agricultural workers who come into contact with wild birds, even while hunting.

“If this is limiting access to the feed and water supply site, even truck routes, how we try to limit those connections that could spread pathogens among the flocks are all really important,” said Dr Bowman. “At this point, every person who produces poultry has to consider how to improve their biosecurity.”

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 eliminate infected flocks.

Methods include spraying chickens and turkeys with a foam that causes asphyxiation. In other cases, carbon dioxide is used to kill birds, whose carcasses are often composted or placed in a landfill.

“It’s probably more humane than letting them die from the virus,” said Professor Kean.