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First case of ‘high path’ bird flu west of the Mississippi

The lethal poultry disease highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been identified in a backyard flock in Iowa, the No. 1 egg-producing state, said the Agriculture Department on Wednesday. It was the first case of “high path” bird flu west of the Mississippi River and the 17th found in domestic flocks this year.

“We recognize the threat HPAI and other foreign animal diseases pose to Iowa agriculture,” said Mike Naig, Iowa’s agriculture secretary. State officials quarantined the site, which is in Pottawattamie County on the Iowa-Nebraska border, said the USDA. The infected mixed-species flock of 42 birds would be destroyed, it said.

Iowa, which produces one of every seven eggs in the country, was the state hit hardest by the bird flu epidemic of 2014 and 2015, with losses of more than 31.5 million turkeys and egg-laying hens. In neighboring Minnesota, the top turkey-growing state, 9 million birds were killed by the virus or culled in attempts to stop its spread.

Overall, 50 million birds, mostly hens and turkeys, died in the 2014-15 epidemic, which drove up egg prices in the grocery store and caused economic losses of more than $1 billion.

More than 1.6 million birds, mostly chickens, have died in this year’s outbreaks, which began in early February and were the first incidents of HPAI in commercial poultry flocks in two years. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has listed 17 cases in nine states: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New York, and Virginia.

Indiana has had the largest number of outbreaks — five confirmed and one pending — while Delaware has had the largest loss: 12 million birds on a poultry farm in New Castle County. Iowa and Connecticut have the newest confirmed outbreaks. The Connecticut case involved a mixed-species backyard flock of 100 birds in New London County, in the southeastern corner of the state.

HPAI can be spread by migratory waterfowl and their droppings; it can also be spread from barn to barn by workers and contaminated equipment. “The best way to protect your birds is to follow good biosecurity,” with such steps as restricting access to flocks and cleaning clothes, vehicles, and equipment used around flocks, said a USDA fact sheet.

“We have been working with USDA, livestock producers, and other stakeholders to develop, test, and strengthen our foreign animal disease preparedness and response plans since the 2015 HPAI outbreak,” said Naig. “While a case like this is not unexpected, we are working with USDA and other partners to implement our plans and protect the health of poultry flocks in Iowa.”

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