Avian Flu not expected to spread in Iowa

BY NICK MOFFIT | APRIL 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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The meat, eggs, and other products from millions of Iowa poultry infected with the H5N2 avian influenza won’t make it to the dinner table, but that’s not the only problem two infected farms could create for the state.

The H5N2 strain of avian influenza currently has not been found to transfer to humans in any way, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said Monday during a conference call.

He said the two Iowa farms that have confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic version of the avian flu could present problems for a variety of people. 

“There is other financial impact here as well,” he said. “Each [egg] layer will eat around one bushel per year of corn, so once these birds are euthanized, they won’t be using corn for a while.”

Northey also referenced veterinarians, soybean producers, and the poultry farmers with the infected population.

The infected population includes 27,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County and 3.8 million egg-laying hens in Osceola County.

Northey said no other farms are currently under investigation and samples tested from farmers in those areas have all been negative.

“We believe this is not going from farm to farm,” he said. “We do not believe this is spreading in a way that is likely to create other problems on other farms.”

While avian flu has made its mark in Wisconsin and Minnesota, John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the H5N2’s appearance is not normal.

“What we’re seeing occur here in the U.S. with high-path avian influenza is unusual in the sense it’s moving through wild waterfowl,” he said.

He said while the exact breach of biosecurity in the infections isn’t clear, officials do know the cause has come from wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, likely through numerous breaches of biosecurity in the farms.

The simple solution to eradicating further cases of H5N2 in Iowa, Clifford said, was a bump in Mother Nature’s thermostat.

“Hopefully, through the summer, which is when we expect to stop seeing these cases and have them drop off because of the heat,” he said.

He said temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s for a consistent week could leave the virus in a tough spot, but it could return this fall and next spring when temperatures are lower again.

For now, the two poultry producers involved with infected populations have fully cooperated, Northey said, with the state and federal organizations involved in investigating the outbreak.

Part of the cooperation will lead to 4 million egg-laying hens and the 27,000 turkeys being killed by depopulation methods such as water-based foam, which creates blanket layer of foam over the birds and blocks their airways, according to a study on the material from the University of Delaware, and exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide, which causes respiratory acidosis.

In regards to economic concerns for the two farms, there will be an indemnity given to the two farmers for the value of their birds and cost of cleanup, but a preliminary amount has not been discussed, Northey said.

“It’s a complicated process. It probably won’t pay for everything,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant loss for the farmer at the end of the day.”

Randy Olson, the executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said despite the killing of almost 4 million of the 60 million egg-laying hens in Iowa, the market might not be heavily changed.

Olson said officials are currently working through potential consequences of the loss of millions of egg-laying hens, and from preliminary conversations, other egg producers are seem as if they will step up production.

“It’s a large and complex egg market,” he said. “Iowa is the nation’s leading state, but we’re certainly not the only state.”

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