OMAHA, Neb. — Four new cases of bird flu at Iowa turkey farms in the past few days will push the number of birds culled nationwide this month to limit the spread of the virus to nearly 700,000.
The latest cases announced by the Iowa Department of Agriculture only add to the toll of this year’s ongoing outbreak that has prompted authorities to kill more than 53 million birds in 47 states. Each time the virus is detected, the whole herd is killed to help control the disease.
Iowa officials said the latest cases discovered since Friday involved 240,000 birds on turkey farms in Sac, Buena Vista, Cherokee and Ida counties, all in the northwest corner of the state. Iowa leads all states with nearly 16 million chickens and turkeys slaughtered this year – more than double the closest state to Nebraska – in large part because it is the largest country’s egg producer and that egg farms can include millions of chickens.
Several other cases of bird flu have been confirmed this month at other turkey farms in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri. A Colorado Highlands game bird producer also had to cull 18,000 birds to limit the spread of the virus.
Experts believe that the virus responsible for bird flu is mainly spread by wild birds as they migrate across the country. The virus is easily spread through the droppings or nasal secretions of an infected bird, which can contaminate dust and soil and be carried around farms on boots and clothing or on truck tires. Although wild birds can often carry bird flu without developing symptoms, the virus has killed large numbers of eagles, vultures, ducks and other wild birds.
Farmers are taking measures like requiring workers to change clothes before entering barns and disinfecting trucks as they enter the farm, but the disease is difficult to control.
This year’s outbreak is different from most previous ones because the virus has found a way to linger through the summer, when warmer temperatures usually kill most of the virus. The US Department of Agriculture resumed reporting large numbers of infected birds in September, when more than 6 million birds had to be killed. This was followed by another 2 million in October and nearly 4 million more in November.
Avian flu does not pose a significant threat to human health as human cases are extremely rare and none of the infected birds are allowed to enter the country’s food supply. And properly cooking poultry at 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill all viruses.
But the bird flu epidemic – combined with soaring fuel and feed prices – has driven up the prices of eggs, chicken and turkey.