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Outbreaks of avian influenza appear close to Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa – Highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu, has cropped up in commercial flocks in Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas, and in backyard chicken flocks in the Pacific Northwest.

Minnesota leads the nation in turkey production, and the discovery of bird flu there has 40 countries now banning turkey products from that state. The bans mean more turkey meat will be available domestically, and depressed prices are bad news for the industry. Iowa ranks 9th in the nation for turkey production, and has about 20 times more laying hens than residents.

But is avian flu in any of Iowa’s commercial flocks yet?

“Not to our knowledge,” said State Veterinarian Dr. David Schmitt on Friday. “We do a lot of surveillance testing and there’s required surveillance testing that’s in our commercial industry and there’s been no findings of avian influenza in our state.”

When it shows up in Iowa is anyone’s guess, according to Story County turkey producer Nick Hermanson, who also noted last week producers are adopting the mindset of “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. [Not that we’re] expecting anything, but we’re taking the precautions, that if it is in Iowa, we want to be prepared.”

Biosecurity measures are clamping down in Texas, which is in the flight path of migrating birds that carry the disease. Hermanson says there’s a heightened sense of vigilance on his own operation: Woodland Farms in Story County.

“We’re washing everything,” says Hermanson. “Everyone’s washing their boots regularly, just trying to keep anything that’s outside the buildings from coming in. And that’s one of the beauties of why we raise poultry in a confinement operation, is that it allows us to keep them safe from this disease spread.

Hermanson described a hypothetical outbreak on his farm as “the biggest, most devastating loss we’ve ever had.”

Schmitt emphasizes that while bird flu has yet to present in any of Iowa’s commercial poultry flocks, the wild birds carrying it aren’t exactly avoiding the state.

“Certainly, as far as we’re in the same pathway, those birds come through Iowa just as well as any of the other states along the pathway,” explained Schmitt, “and that’s why producers have been provided and the industries have worked well as far as with the producers for enhancing biosecurity practices. And that’s what every individual really needs to do that has poultry.”>

Schmidt says enhanced biosecurity practices in commercial operations, include sanitizing feed trucks and vehicles, and limiting foot traffic into the facility. For Iowans who keep backyard chickens, Schmitt says to keep an eye on your birds for signs of disease, and to contact veterinarians if anything seems unusual.

The H5N2 strain of avian influenza causing the current outbreak is not known threat to human health. If a flock is discovered to be infected with avian flu, authorities will destroy all animals at that site.

To hear more about avian influenza from State Veterinarian Dr. David Schmitt, click the audio player above this story.