Officials and farmers have acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to stop the disease from infecting poultry.
The disease spreads mainly through the droppings from wild birds like ducks and geese. These birds often have no symptoms. However, studies have shown that the virus can be traced to secure turkey and chicken barns by equipment, workers and mice as well as small birds and dust particles.
Wild birds infected with the virus have been discovered in at least 21 US states. The virus has also been spreading in migrating waterfowl across Europe and Asia for almost a year.
Federal and state officials are hopeful that the disease will not spread as widely as it did in 2015. This outbreak, which resulted in the death of approximately 50 million chickens and turkeys in 2015, caused egg and meat prices skyrocketing. Bird flu ravaged more than 200 farms across 15 states, resulting in a $1 billion loss for the federal government and an estimated $3 billion for the poultry industry.
Officials can't predict how the disease will end without knowing what to do. The prices of foodare already high due to inflation and supply chain issues. If the bird flu epidemic spreads to enough farms, prices for chicken, turkey, and eggs could rise even more.
"We are not experiencing a huge outbreak on a large-scale, so I don't think it's too early to be concerned about pricing or food impact at this stage, but you need to recognize that over time that could be an issue," Iowa Secretary for Agriculture Mike Naig stated.
In February this year, the first case of this disease was discovered at a commercial facility in Indiana. Since then, 341,000 turkeys and 6.6 million broiler and egg-laying chickens have been culled. They are usually buried in trenches at the site.
The United States Department of Agriculture states that the virus does not pose a risk to food quality as infected birds must be removed from infected farms and they cannot enter food processing systems. As a general food safety precaution, it is important to properly handle and cook all poultry and eggs until they reach 165 F.
Scientists are confident wild birds may be spreading the disease. However, the mystery of how the virus can enter highly secure barns is still unknown. These barns are equipped with modern ventilation systems and follow strict protocols to allow people in.
When Dr. Jeff Kaisand was asked about Iowa's first case of a turkey flock infected by a virus, he said, "We don’t know how it got in."
Iowa is the state that produces the most eggs, with 49 million chickens. This makes it a big question. Iowa was the victim of its first case last Friday in a commercial egg-laying facility. This resulted in the deaths of approximately 919,000 chickens.
On Monday, 3 million hens were rescued from an egg-layer farm in Wisconsin.
In a 2017 report, the USDA stated that although studies of 2015's outbreak were not conclusive, that spread among facilities was mainly due to shared equipment, clothing, or boots of employees and vehicles used for feed distribution, among other reasons.
Small birds can spread the disease by squeezing into buildings or being tracked in by mice.
"Even looking at the epidemiological analyses for 2015, you will see that there was no single source of introduction. "They were unable to draw a conclusion," stated Dr. Yuko Sato, a veterinarian who is also an associate professor at Iowa State University's veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine programs. "I would suggest that each introduction will probably be independent. It's not one weak link.
Greg Langmo of Minnesota, a turkey farmer, lost 90,000 turkeys last year. He is grateful that his state, the country's largest turkey grower, has so far been spared. He stated that farmers are following biosecurity protocols and keeping barn swallow and starling nests out of their barns.
He said, "We are very optimistic that some of our new strategies will be enough to stop it from happening." "We are doing our best and will play what we have."
Since 2015, studies in France and the U.S. have shown that the virus can also be carried by wind-borne dust particles. New protocols have been developed to reduce airborne transmission in outbreaks. They include the killing of infected birds within 24 hour, increased testing, and additional precautions within a radius of six miles (10 kilometers) from infected facilities.
"The birds that carry the virus are typically wild waterfowl, which includes your ducks, geese, and wigeons. There's no way for those birds to get into barns. It will be brought in by another animal. Sato stated that knowing that the outside isn't safe is the only inference we can draw.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent bird flu outbreaks in flocks are not a concern for public health. These avian influenza virus cases have not been confirmed in humans. Although it can transmit to humans, it's rare and usually due to close contact of infected birds.