Upcoming Avian Influenza Season

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Poultry on family farms could be exposed because of only having bars between them and the wild birds (via Flickr/Joshua Berry).

In 2015, the first case of avian influenza was reported in April.  This year, agricultural specialists are on high alert and want to prevent the disaster of last year.  In one of the worst animal epidemics in recent years, 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens died and taxpayers lost $950 million.

This Spring, wild waterfowl are expected to pass through the U.S. on their annual migration route back from the Southern Hemisphere.  Government officials, industry leaders and farmers are working to tighten biosecurity measures before their arrival.

Some measures taken in Iowa, the epicenter of last year’s epidemic, include installing showers near the barns, requiring clothing changes and closing the barns to visitors.  The farmers will also watch for symptoms of avian influenza, such as lethargy, decreased water intake and more birds dying suddenly.  Despite this, contamination could still occur because completely preventing exposure from the outside is impossible.

Dust containing feces from wild birds is widespread, and in areas where biosecurity measures are not enforced or when workers choose not to follow procedures, outbreaks are likely to occur.  However, preventing an outbreak from spreading to other farms should be easier this year because state agricultural departments are more prepared.  They have taken measures to prevent the disaster of last year from reoccurring and plan to do everything in their power to take control of avian influenza epidemics this year.

Avian Influenza Season

Bird Flu Outbreak in Bangladesh and Nigeria

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(Wild geese in Stillwater. Picture by Rachel Higgins)

Outbreaks of various H5 avian influenza strains have occurred in France, Nigeria, Vietnam and Bangladesh.  H5 strains, particularly H5N1, are dangerous, as they can spread to pigs, mutate and then pass to humans.  Some strains can pass directly to humans and can be lethal for adults.

On Feb. 4, an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in crows was confirmed in Bangladesh and is believed to have spread from France.  Although H5N1 is not the main strain in France currently, the country has been dealing with H5N2 since Jan. 28 and has lost thousands of birds.

In addition, Nigeria and Vietnam have both had recent outbreaks of H5 strains with the H5N6 strain in Vietnam concerning health officials.  H5N6 is a strain that is also found in Laos, Hong Kong and China that can spread to people, although so far only China has reported human infection. Both Nigeria and Vietnam have lost thousands of poultry and are expected to lose more due to poor biosecurity.

Although the United States has not had an outbreak of H5 strains in recent years, it seems likely that it may spread to North America.  Bird flu from Europe seems to be moving into Africa now, and the Asian strains are starting to appear in more countries.  The most likely way for an H5 strain to come to North America is the migration route that passes through Alaska and then the Midwest.

Ducks and Canadian geese that fly along this path often carry various strains of avian influenza and are the main source of the virus in recent years.  They can contaminate water sources with their feces, which indirectly infects poultry.  Currently, only good biosecurity practice can prevent them from spreading the virus.

Outbreaks in Four Countries