Ag secretary: Deadly bird flu ‘could get worse’ in Iowa

By: - March 29, 2022 5:50 pm

Migrating birds infected by a deadly bird flu could threaten Iowa poultry for two more months. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

State officials have confirmed two more instances of a deadly and highly contagious avian influenza in commercial poultry facilities in Iowa — one of them a 1.5 million flock of egg-laying chickens in Guthrie County — according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“You can see a scenario where this could get worse as we go through the spring,” Mike Naig, the state’s secretary of agriculture, said Tuesday in a call with reporters.

Basically, the state is at the whim of infected migratory birds that are passing through and can be asymptomatic. The first confirmation of a highly pathogenic avian influenza in Iowa this year was March 1 in a small backyard flock in Pottawattamie County.

That was about six weeks earlier than the first detection of 2015, when an avian flu outbreak led to the culling of more than 32 million birds in Iowa over the course of about two months.

About a month has elapsed since the first detection this year, and Naig cautioned that the migration — and threat of new infections — might last for another two months. Infected birds can transmit the virus through their feces or their oral and nasal secretions. Officials suspect the virus is carried into bird facilities by workers, food or other items that have come into contact with it.

So far, the virus has been found in nine Iowa commercial and backyard flocks with a total of about 8.1 million birds. On Monday, the state identified the virus in the large Guthrie flock and in a Hamilton County flock of about 28,000 turkeys.

The virus is unlikely to infect humans, and meat and eggs of infected birds are destroyed.

State officials are unaware of any instances this year of the virus being transmitted from one flock to another, which accounted for a “significant portion” of 2015 infections, said Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the state ag department. The department seeks to prevent those flock-to-flock transmissions by culling infected flocks within 24 hours of detection and with on-site disposal of the carcasses through burial or composting.

“This is something we think is absolutely critical,” State Veterinarian Jeff Kaisand said.

Iowa is particularly vulnerable to the virus because of its large flocks. This year, Iowa has about half the number of detections of South Dakota — which had 17 as of Sunday — but the number of birds that have been destroyed in Iowa is 10 times that of South Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA sent an incident management team to Iowa to assist with virus detection and containment, Naig said.

“It’s a difficult time for poultry producers,” he said. “Not just those that have an infected site. It affects all poultry producers because, of course, they are on high alert.”

Here’s a timeline of Iowa’s infected flocks so far:

March 1: A backyard flock of 42 chickens and ducks in Pottawattamie County.
March 6: A commercial flock of about 50,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
March 10: A commercial flock of about 916,000 egg-laying chickens in Taylor County.
March 17: A commercial flock of about 5.3 million egg-laying chickens in Buena Vista County.
March 20: A backyard flock of 11 chickens and ducks in Warren County.
March 23: A commercial flock of about 54,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
March 25: A commercial flock of about 250,000 young hens in Franklin County.
March 28: A commercial flock of about 28,000 turkeys in Hamilton County.
March 28: A commercial flock of 1.5 million egg-laying chickens in Guthrie County.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.