Other View: Minnesota on guard against repeat of 2015 bird flu outbreak – Duluth News Tribune


Was turkey in your menu for Easter dinner?

In that case, you were in good company. In response to the National Turkey Federation, Americans were expected to devour 19 million turkeys this past weekend — and the birds served to Minnesota families were likely raised in Minnesota. Our state produces more turkeys than another.

But perhaps you selected ham for Easter. Fair enough. Did you serve a frittata for brunch? Or perhaps some scrambled eggs for breakfast? Or, setting Easter aside, is there a chicken sandwich in your near future?

Chances are high fairly good that you just answered “yes” to 1 or more of the above questions, which suggests you have got some reason to listen to the news that avian influenza has found its way into Minnesota, including outbreaks in Dodge County and Mower County.

If this news sounds familiar — well, it should. In March 2015, an outbreak of “bird flu” type H5N2 was detected in Minnesota. By May 30, poultry producers in 15 states were forced to destroy greater than 40 million domestic fowl, including 30 million in Iowa and 9 million in Minnesota. On the time, Nebraska was home to 9.5 million egg-laying hens, and seven million of them died or needed to be euthanized.

Government agencies spent nearly $1 billion to securely eliminate infected birds and reimburse producers whose flocks were euthanized, making the 2015 bird-flu outbreak the most costly animal health disaster in U.S. history

Will Minnesota — and your complete poultry-producing and poultry-consuming public — manage to avoid a reoccurrence of this disaster?

It’s too early to inform. The 2015 outbreak spurred a latest deal with biosecurity at Minnesota’s poultry farms; and while these measures didn’t prevent a latest outbreak of bird flu, we’re about to seek out out whether they’ll limit the scope of the outbreak and mitigate its economic impact.

But before we have a look at that system, some background is so as.

The present outbreak of avian influenza is not some scary, latest, COVID-like virus that baffles scientists. It’s a well-known strain of bird flu that was first detected in China in 1996.

While some variants of this virus have been linked to just a few hundred human deaths (mostly in Southeast Asia) since 2003, the present strain shouldn’t be one among those variants. It has been detected in precisely one person, in England, whose backyard flock was infected. This person had no symptoms.

But when COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that viruses can mutate, and each bird that contracts avian flu presents a possibility for such a mutation. To not be alarmist, however the 1918 so-called “Spanish flu” pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, began as a bird flu mutation.

Clearly, the goal must be to stamp out the present outbreak as quickly as possible.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health, whose five members are veterinarians or livestock producers, is on the front lines of this effort. The BAH’s website lays out the biosecurity protocols that poultry farmers are expected to follow. It’s a reasonably daunting set of procedures that covers every part from feed deliveries to insect control, and the overriding goal is to forestall exposure of domestic fowl to diseases carried by wild birds or by domestic birds on other farms.

It’s a giant challenge. Wild waterfowl are common carriers of avian flu, which suggests that in migration season, one careless step right into a mud puddle containing goose feces could bring the virus right into a turkey barn or a backyard chicken coop.

That is why no responsible farmer would allow a visitor to casually walk right into a poultry constructing. The BAH suggests that no farm machinery should move from one farm site to a different without being cleaned and disinfected. All visitors must be informed of all biosecurity protocols and be required to wear farm-furnished boots, masks, and protective clothing. Employees should start each shift wearing clean clothing that’s worn exclusively for work. All feed must be stored in places inaccessible to wild birds. The list of biosecurity measures goes on and on.

So, while it’s kind of of an exaggeration to check a poultry barn to a “clean room” at a biochemistry lab, the analogy has validity.

After all, the truth is that the Board of Animal Health has limited investigative and enforcement resources. State regulators cannot be readily available to ensure every farmer and worker follows all biosecurity protocols before entering a hen house. It’s within the farmers’ best interests to guard their animals — and given what happened in 2015, we would prefer to imagine that almost all operators are making every effort to comply with a minimum of the spirit of BAH guidance.

We’ll soon know whether that optimism is misplaced. Up to now, 21 sites in 11 Minnesota counties have avian flu outbreaks, with greater than 1 million birds lost. Those numbers pale as compared to the totals from 2015, but avian flu typically peaks within the spring as waterfowl migrate north, so those numbers could grow dramatically in the subsequent six weeks.

Meanwhile, the very best advice we are able to offer consumers is that this: Don’t let fear change your dinner plans. You may’t get bird flu by eating chicken, turkey, or eggs, and Minnesota’s poultry farmers need our support as they take care of soaring feed prices, higher labor costs, and nature’s latest viral assault.