Where does it come from and how can it be stopped? – Twin Cities

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Poultry farms in Minnesota are being hit by an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza that has already affected more than 1 million birds in more than 20 locations across the state.

This week, 23 million birds in 24 states were affected by the worst avian flu outbreak in U.S. poultry flocks since 2015. Here’s what we know so far:

What is HPAI?

Highly pathogenic avian influenza – or HPAI – is caused by a highly contagious virus that is generally fatal to domestic birds. There are other strains of avian influenza that are considered low pathogenic, with birds showing mild or no signs of illness at all. Once exposed to infection, birds die within about 48 hours, according to Beth Thompson, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

The virus is of particular concern in Minnesota, as the state is the largest turkey producer in the US. Each year, producers breed about 40 million birds. In the 2015 outbreak, farmers lost millions, and nationally, the federal government’s response cost billions of dollars.

Thompson said the H5N1 flu virus currently affecting American couples was present in Europe more than a year ago. It eventually spread to North America where migratory birds have spread it to poultry farms in the US and Canada.

During the 2015 outbreak, 23 provinces and more than 100 farms were affected by the virus. While it’s too early to say how serious the current outbreak could become, officials had confirmed the presence of the virus in about a dozen Minnesota counties as of Thursday.

As of this week, it affects about half of the states in the US and has killed 23 million birds in states including Iowa and Wyoming. Thompson said the current outbreak already seems much more widespread than the one in 2015 when more than 50 million birds died of disease or were euthanized.


The current outbreak of the avian flu virus is spread by migratory birds, which can be infected without appearing sick. Geese and ducks are on the move when winter is over, and when they land, they can leave behind feces containing the virus. Avian influenza is so contagious that small amounts of contamination on a farmer’s boots can cause an outbreak in a chicken coop.

“The lakes are starting to open up, the ponds are starting to open up,” Thompson said. “All it takes is a little bit of that stool, and it can be something as simple as walking through a puddle.”

There are multiple migratory routes in the continental US, including the East Coast wild waterfowl trail, one that enters the Mississippi River and one just west of Minnesota, known as the Central Flyway. There is also a trail along the west coast called the Pacific Flyway. The virus is present in all of them, Thompson said.

How this outbreak progresses will depend on many factors, but warmer weather could be a big help.

“We need the sun. We need the summer, we need the environment to dry out, we need the environment to warm up, and we need the wild waterfowl and migratory birds to complete their path to their northern breeding grounds so that they don’t cross the capable of flying,” says Thompson. said. “Once we can get into some warmer weather, I think we’ll be moving in a better direction.”

Stop the spread

When HPAI is identified in the flock, standard procedure is to euthanize all birds to prevent the virus from spreading further. The virus is extremely deadly to domesticated birds and most will die shortly after the infections are established.

The standard procedure for “depopulating” a chicken coop is to use a machine that spreads foam over the birds and prevents them from breathing. Thompson said the practice is in line with American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.

Farmers can take biosecurity measures to prevent their flocks from becoming infected. Abby Schuft, a poultry educator at the University of Minnesota, said federal officials need larger operations to have a biosafety plan that is reviewed every two years by state authorities.

“The USDA spent billions of dollars in 2015 depopulating birds and restoring those commercial flocks, and they decided they didn’t want to do that again,” she explained.

Many of the steps to prevent the spread are quite simple. Wearing clean boots when entering a pen and making sure hands are clean before handling birds are two central rules. It also helps to make farming areas unattractive to migratory birds by eliminating puddles and ponds and not leaving feed out in the open. Some who keep chickens in urban areas like to leave grain over their yard so their chickens can roam and graze, but this can attract unwanted visitors who could cause an infection, Schuft said.

Can humans get HPAI?

Public health officials are closely monitoring farmers and crews dispatched to eliminate infected flocks for signs of animal-to-human transmission of the virus, Schuft said. So far, there have been no reports of the current H5N1 strain infecting humans.

Avian influenza viruses rarely infect humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Animal-to-human infections usually occur when people have unprotected contact with infected birds or virus-contaminated surfaces. It is even rarer for a person infected with bird flu to transmit the virus to another person.

Federal agricultural officials say it’s not possible to get bird flu from eating poultry or eggs. The chances of infected poultry entering the food supply are extremely low, as birds are typically destroyed.

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