After 2-week lull, deadly bird flu hits Iowa again

By: - April 21, 2022 4:06 pm

The highly pathogenic avian influenza detection in Bremer County is the 17th this year in Iowa. (Photo by Stephen Ausmus/Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture)

A deadly, highly transmissible avian influenza was detected in a commercial turkey flock in Bremer County, the 17th such detection in Iowa this year, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said Thursday.

Its nearly 30,000 birds will be culled to prevent the spread of the virus.

The detection is the first in Iowa in more than two weeks. Commercial flocks in the state had been infected by the virus on an almost daily basis in late March and early April. Wild, migrating birds are the likely source of the virus.

The last reported detection was in a flock of 46,000 turkeys in Hardin County, which happened on April 5, the day that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack predicted bird flu wouldn’t be as severe this year as it was in 2015 because of the detection and containment protocols that have been developed since.

Infected flocks are destroyed as quickly as possible, and their carcasses are buried or composted on site.

“We are still not going to speculate on the duration of the outbreak,” said Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “Of course, it has been good news that we haven’t had a confirmed case in a couple of weeks, but the threat remains. We’re encouraging producers to remain vigilant in their biosecurity practices and to stay alert.”

She said the department can’t point to a specific reason for the lull in Iowa infections but that heavy bird migration patterns have shifted to the north and west.

Indeed, Minnesota had about 30 confirmations in its flocks during Iowa’s recent lull. The vast majority of those were in turkey flocks, which tend to be significantly smaller than the layer chicken flocks that contribute mightily to the total number of birds that are culled.

The turkey flocks often have tens of thousands of birds, whereas the layer flocks can have millions.

The 2015 outbreak led to the culling of more than 50 million birds in the country, and about two-thirds of them were in Iowa.

The total this year stands at nearly 31 million, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Iowa now accounts for less than half of those birds, with a total of about 13.4 million.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is soliciting help from residents to identify avian influenza in wild birds. The department wants people to report clusters of dead birds by calling (515) 725-8200.

“Bird loss in the wild is a natural occurrence, so seeing one dead bird shouldn’t be cause for alarm,” said Rachel Ruden, the DNR’s state wildlife veterinarian, “but if someone is finding a number of dead birds, especially ducks, geese or raptors, we want to know about it.”

The last confirmed infection of wild birds in Iowa was on March 24, in four dead snow geese, according to the USDA. There have been about 220 detections of the virus in commercial and backyard flocks in 29 states.

Humans are unlikely to be infected by the virus, and eggs and meat of infected birds are destroyed.

Iowa’s 17 detections this year include:

— 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 more than 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 about 1.5 million egg-laying chickens in Guthrie County.
— March 29: A commercial flock of about 35,500 turkeys in Buena Vista County.
— March 31: A commercial flock of more than 5 million egg-laying chickens in Osceola County.
— March 31: A commercial flock of about 88,000 turkeys in Cherokee County.
— April 2: A commercial flock of about 37,000 turkeys in Sac County.
— April 2: A commercial flock of about 15,000 breeding chickens in Humboldt County.
— April 4: A commercial flock of about 8,000 turkeys in Hamilton County.
— April 5: A commercial flock of about 46,000 turkeys in Hardin County.
— April 20: A commercial flock of about 30,000 turkeys in Bremer 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. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.