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Bird flu losses may be significantly less than 2014-2015 epidemic, says Vilsack

U.S. poultry producers have strengthened their safeguards against disease, and the nation may see “significantly less” damage from this year’s outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday. The 2014-2015 bird flu epidemic killed more than 50 million birds, mostly chickens and turkeys, in domestic flocks and created spot shortages of eggs in grocery stores.

During a teleconference, Vilsack said his assessment was based on conditions at present. The arrival of warmer weather will help end the outbreaks that began in early February, he said.

So far this year, around 23 million birds in domestic flocks have died of HPAI or in cullings of infected flocks, said the USDA. “High path” bird flu can wipe out a flock quickly, so agricultural officials are ruthless in killing infected flocks in hopes of preventing the spread of the viral disease.

“It is imperative farmers tighten up their facilities” and their biosecurity procedures since HPAI is spread by migratory birds, said Vilsack, who complimented the “good work” by poultry producers to isolate their flocks from wild birds.

The virus can also be spread by contaminated equipment and clothing as workers move from barn to barn. Vilsack said the poultry industry adopted stronger biosecurity standards after the 2014-2015 epidemic. In a report on the epidemic, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it was “the largest HPAI outbreak ever recorded in the United States and arguably the most significant animal health event in U.S. history.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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