Via the Star Tribune: Latest bird flu outbreak brings total Minnesota turkeys affected to 1.4 million. Excerpt:
Highly lethal bird flu is taking on epidemic proportions, hitting eight more Minnesota turkey farms and bringing the number of birds affected in the state to more than 1.4 million.
The newly afflicted farms were raising more than 500,000 turkeys, making Tuesday’s announcement by regulators the largest one-day death toll since highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu struck the state in early March. Birds on a farm that don’t die from the sickness are killed as a precaution.
Minnesota, the nation’s largest turkey producer at 46 million birds annually, is the epicenter of a nationwide outbreak of the deadly bird flu, which has hit at least 12 states. The first case in Iowa was announced Tuesday, South Dakota has had three outbreaks, and North Dakota and Wisconsin one each.
“It’s clearly a major epidemic,” said Michael Osterholm, a prominent infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota. A highly pathogenic bird flu outbreak this large is “unprecedented” in the United States, he said.
And it’s likely not going away soon. “We do expect to see additional [flocks] affected through this spring,” said Bill Hartmann, chief veterinarian for the Minnesota Animal Health Board.
Still, animal health experts hope that the warmer spring weather will stop the virus, which likes cold and damp weather.
The bird flu is believed to be spread by waterfowl that carry the virus but don’t get sick from it. Domestic turkeys are highly susceptible to the flu, and chickens have caught it, too.
However, the H5N2 virus has yet to cause human illness in the United States, health experts say. “This is not a public health risk or food safety risk,” said Ed Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Still, people in other countries who work closely with infected birds have caught strains of highly pathogenic avian flu.
The state Health Department has been monitoring 60 people who’ve worked on infected farms, and none of them has come down with the flu, Ehlinger said.
The bird flu has rocked the state’s turkey industry, which includes about 450 growers who tend about 600 farms. “Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a game changer,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.