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Lethal Bird Flu Discovered in Commercial US Poultry Operation for the First Time

Lethal Bird Flu Discovered in Commercial US Poultry Operation for the First Time


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The USDA has confirmed the first incidence of deadly avian flu in a commercial chicken farm

Officials confirmed that neither the chickens nor the eggs from the affected supply would reach the food system.

A lethal strain of bird flu has been discovered in the United States for the first time, the United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed. The virus, H5N2, was discovered in a commercial egg-laying facility in Wisconsin in a flock of 200,000 hens.

Authorities in Wisconsin have not identified the owner of the chickens, but confirmed that the group will be quarantined and culled in order to stop the spread of the deadly virus. The virus has already killed hundreds of thousands of turkeys this year.

Neither the chickens nor the eggs from the facility will enter the food system, officials confirmed.

On Monday, experts expressed concern for the geographic spread of the disease, rather than its infection of chickens, which experts had already anticipated.

"The big deal is it's in another state," John Glisson, vice president of research for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, told Reuters.

No human cases of the bird flu have been detected.


Deadly Bird Flu Found at Tennessee Chicken Farm That Supplies Tyson

A deadly form of bird flu has been confirmed in a southern Tennessee operation that supplies Tyson Foods Inc. with chickens, marking the first U.S. case at a commercial farm this year and prompting South Korea to ban imports of American poultry.

Highly-pathogenic H7 avian influenza, or HPAI, was found in a breeding flock of 73,500 chickens in Lincoln County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement Sunday. The site has been placed under quarantine and the flock will be destroyed to prevent the disease’s spread. No birds will enter the food system, the agency said.

“Based on the limited scope known to us at this time, we don’t expect disruptions to our chicken business and plan to meet our customers’ needs,” Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson, the largest U.S. chicken producer, said in an email Monday.

Tennessee borders several of the nation’s largest chicken-meat producing states, including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina. The virus is believed to spread partly by migratory wild birds, posing the risk that it may reach other farms.

The U.S. southeast was largely spared during the last major U.S. outbreak, which affected turkey and egg farms in the Midwest and led to the death of more than 48 million birds through mid-2015, either from infection or culling. HPAI was found once last year at an Indiana turkey farm.

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Previous outbreaks have led some nations to restrict shipments of poultry from affected areas. South Korea’s agriculture ministry said Monday it banned shipments of poultry and eggs from the U.S. unless they’ve been heat treated. The Asian nation is already facing surging egg prices and has culled almost 34 million birds amid a domestic bird-flu outbreak. While poultry producers across Europe and Asia have also been grappling with the virus in recent months, Brazil, the world’s largest chicken exporter, has so far remained untouched.

Tyson fell 3.9 percent to $61.13 at 10:37 a.m. in New York. Rival U.S. chicken producer Sanderson Farms Inc. dropped 3.4 percent and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. was down 2.3 percent. Brazilian producer BRF SA rose as much as 4.3 percent in Sao Paulo. The company may benefit from the latest U.S. outbreak, Itau BBA’s analyst Antonio Barreto said in note.

Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson said all flocks within a six-mile radius of the Tennessee farm will be tested and won’t be transported unless they test negative for the virus. Since 2015’s outbreaks, the company’s U.S. poultry operations have been operating under increased biosecurity measures, including not allowing non-essential visitors access to contract farms and disinfecting vehicles to prevent spreading the virus.

Pilgrim’s Pride has activated response plans with “heightened on-farm biosecurity programs” at all of its facilities, even though none of the company’s operations are located in the area under quarantine, spokesman Cameron Bruett said Monday in an email.

Sanderson Farms has no assets in Tennessee but is “implementing heightened biosecurity measures across the company,” Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said in an email Monday. Perdue Farms Inc., another large U.S. producer, has no live production in Tennessee, spokeswoman Andrea Staub said in an email.

The latest discovery of HPAI is the first in Tennessee, according to the state’s agriculture department. The highly pathogenic form of the virus can be fatal to domesticated chickens and turkeys. About 30 nearby poultry farms are also under quarantine, although none have reported an increase in mortality, the department said.

“Animal health is our top priority,” Charles Hatcher, Tennessee’s state veterinarian, said in a statement. “With this HPAI detection, we are moving quickly and aggressively to prevent the virus from spreading.”


Deadly bird flu strain hits west-central Minnesota commercial turkey operation

GLENWOOD, Minn. - State health officials say a strain of bird flu that’s deadly to poultry has been discovered in Minnesota, after the population of a commercial turkey barn was decimated in a matter of days - from a flock of 15,000 to fewer than 100.

Health officials said Thursday that the risk to the general public from the virus - known as H5N2 avian influenza - was “very low,” though there was some occupational risk to workers handling the turkey flock in west-central Minnesota.

The four workers who worked at the Pope County farm - which was not identified - were being monitored. However, no human infections from this strain of bird flu have been detected anywhere.

Health officials said there were four barns on the property - two for raising turkeys and two for laying eggs - and only one of the poultry raising barns experienced the severe “death loss.”

Officials quarantined the farm and said the remaining turkeys would be killed to prevent the disease’s spread. No birds ever went outside the barns.

Still, state and federal officials plan to scour the area around the farm for the presence of infected birds, though the likelihood of finding any is considered slim because of the frigid conditions.

“We’re optimistic (about possibly containing an outbreak) because there are no other commercial operations in that area,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “If we can get through the next 21 days (the disease’s incubation period) without finding anything, we should be in good shape.”

The disease originates from wild waterfowl - geese, ducks and shorebirds - and is endemic in that population. Infected flocks that originated in Eurasia eventually traveled to North America in late 2014 via migratory pathways, including the Pacific Flyway. Once there, the Asian strains mixed with North American avian influenza viruses, creating the new strain. The strain has been confirmed in backyard and wild birds in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Thursday’s announcement marks the first time the strain has been detected in the Mississippi Flyway.

Waterfowl typically do not experience severe symptoms and often don’t appear sick. Poultry, on the other hand - including chickens, turkeys and pheasants - are particularly susceptible to the disease.

“Songbirds, the types of birds that come to your backyard feeders, really don’t get infected as a general rule,” said Dr. Carol Cardona, professor of avian health at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “We don’t know why. … Those smaller birds are not great hosts of the virus.”

Cardona noted that infected poultry would not make it to food markets, as it is all tested for influenza.

The disease is typically spread through fecal matter, which can be tracked into commercial farms by workers.

According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Minnesota is the top producer and processor of turkeys in the country, raising 46 million birds annually, worth around $750 million.

State officials said they suspect the outbreak could have an impact on the state’s poultry export business, which totaled some $92 million in 2013.

That amount represents 10 to 12 percent of the total value of state turkey production, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

“Our biggest area of growth has been export markets,” Olson said. “We were watching for this, but we didn’t expect to see it this soon.”

Frederickson acknowledged that exports could take a hit, as has been the case in the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re very cognizant of that,” Frederickson said. “We can only prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

The Pope County farm’s owners noticed elevated mortality in their flock on Feb. 26, when they lost an initial 70 birds. The following day, they lost hundreds and contacted state officials. A U.S. Department of Agriculture lab confirmed the virus to state officials Wednesday night.

Those coming into contact with sick or dead poultry or wildlife should wash their hands with soap and water and change clothing before coming into contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.

Residents can report unusual bird deaths to the USDA at 1-866-536-7593. Those who want more information on the health of backyard birds can visit healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.


Deadly bird flu strain makes first strike at a poultry farm in Mississippi Flyway

GLENWOOD, Minn. -- State health officials say a strain of bird flu that’s deadly to poultry has been discovered in Minnesota, after the population of a commercial turkey barn was decimated in a matter of days - from a flock of 15,000 to fewer than 100.

Health officials said Thursday that the risk to the general public from the virus - known as H5N2 avian influenza - was “very low,” though there was some occupational risk to workers handling the turkey flock in west-central Minnesota.

The four workers who worked at the Pope County farm - which was not identified - were being monitored. However, no human infections from this strain of bird flu have been detected anywhere.

Health officials said there were four barns on the property - two for raising turkeys and two for laying eggs - and only one of the poultry raising barns experienced the severe “death loss.”

Officials quarantined the farm and said the remaining turkeys would be killed to prevent the disease’s spread. No birds ever went outside the barns.

Still, state and federal officials plan to scour the area around the farm for the presence of infected birds, though the likelihood of finding any is considered slim because of the frigid conditions.

“We’re optimistic (about possibly containing an outbreak) because there are no other commercial operations in that area,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “If we can get through the next 21 days (the disease’s incubation period) without finding anything, we should be in good shape.”

The disease originates from wild waterfowl - geese, ducks and shorebirds - and is endemic in that population. Infected flocks that originated in Eurasia eventually traveled to North America in late 2014 via migratory pathways, including the Pacific Flyway. Once there, the Asian strains mixed with North American avian influenza viruses, creating the new strain. The strain has been confirmed in backyard and wild birds in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Thursday’s announcement marks the first time the strain has been detected in the Mississippi Flyway.

Waterfowl typically do not experience severe symptoms and often don’t appear sick. Poultry, on the other hand - including chickens, turkeys and pheasants - are particularly susceptible to the disease.

“Songbirds, the types of birds that come to your backyard feeders, really don’t get infected as a general rule,” said Dr. Carol Cardona, professor of avian health at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “We don’t know why. … Those smaller birds are not great hosts of the virus.”

Cardona noted that infected poultry would not make it to food markets, as it is all tested for influenza.

The disease is typically spread through fecal matter, which can be tracked into commercial farms by workers.

According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, Minnesota is the top producer and processor of turkeys in the country, raising 46 million birds annually, worth around $750 million.

State officials said they suspect the outbreak could have an impact on the state’s poultry export business, which totaled some $92 million in 2013.

That amount represents 10 to 12 percent of the total value of state turkey production, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

“Our biggest area of growth has been export markets,” Olson said. “We were watching for this, but we didn’t expect to see it this soon.”

Frederickson acknowledged that exports could take a hit, as has been the case in the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re very cognizant of that,” Frederickson said. “We can only prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

The Pope County farm’s owners noticed elevated mortality in their flock on Feb. 26, when they lost an initial 70 birds. The following day, they lost hundreds and contacted state officials. A U.S. Department of Agriculture lab confirmed the virus to state officials Wednesday night.

Those coming into contact with sick or dead poultry or wildlife should wash their hands with soap and water and change clothing before coming into contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.


Bird flu flies east to commercial poultry farms

The initial case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) was reported in December of last year at an Oregon farm. Earlier this year, the first case at a commercial farm was detected at a poultry farm in California. Since then, the disease has appeared at an additional five commercial poultry farms.

Reported cases of HPAI in the US initially appeared to be restricted to the Pacific region of the country, but it has made its way east this month, with confirmed cases at four commercial turkey farms in Missouri, Minnesota and Arkansas. In all, 14 flocks have been infected in the US since December 2014.News of the outbreaks has prompted dozens of countries, including those in the European Union and China, to ban poultry imports from the Pacific Northwest.

US government agencies stress there is no immediate public health concern, but considers these reports to be part of an ongoing avian influenza disease incident. Officials state that while avian influenza is lethal to birds, no human cases of these viruses have been detected in the US or Canada or internationally.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) confirmed last week that avian influenza had infected birds at a second turkey farm in the state. Just one day earlier, state officials announced that turkeys at a grower facility with a commercial turkey flock of 30,100 had been infected with H5N2 avian influenza. MDA is working with USDA, along with state health officials and industry partners, to coordinate a response. According to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL), these incidents mark the first time H5N2 had been detected in Missouri.

Following protocols, both Missouri facilities were immediately quarantined. The involved flocks will be depopulated, and none of the turkeys will not enter the food system. Following USDA protocols, surveillance and testing procedures are underway at properties near the affected facilities to ensure the virus has not spread.

The nation’s poultry industry is assuring the public that it has detailed response plans in place for controlling the spread of the virus and eliminating it in its entirety. “The US government and poultry industries have sophisticated systems and techniques to detect the introduction of the virus into a commercial poultry flock and have proven methods to quickly eliminate the virus,” says a joint statement released by members in the poultry industry.


USDA: Deadly bird flu virus found in Iowa

A bird flu outbreak affecting areas throughout the Midwest has been found in a commercial turkey flock in Buena Vista County, the first time the virus has been found in Iowa, the U.S. government said Tuesday.

The Agriculture Department said the H5N2 avian influenza strain, which is capable of killing an entire flock within 48 hours, was found in a commercial flock of 27,000 turkeys.

The government did not specify the location of the farm or name the operation. Officials said the turkeys will be killed to prevent the spread of the disease and that none of the birds will enter the food system.

"We think all the things are in place to make sure this outbreak doesn't lead to other outbreaks around it," said Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture. "We don't know what the disease's prevalence is in the wild population.

"It could show up at other places. But we don't know that it will, and we're hopeful that it doesn't," Northey said.

The facility and poultry facilities within 10 kilometers around it have been quarantined. State officials will test commercial and backyard poultry in the area for the disease.

Iowa State University economist David Swenson said the discovery in Buena Vista County is unlikely to have a major impact on the state through the loss of jobs, farm income for other producers or the consumer through higher poultry prices, unless the outbreak becomes more widespread.

"It's really important to the poultry industry, and one has to be careful not to minimize that," Swenson said. "But in terms of the state's economy noticing this, it probably won't unless this disease isn't stemmed."

Iowa ranks about ninth in the nation for turkey production, with about 11 million birds. Iowa is the nation's leading egg producer, with 60 million laying hens.

The lethal virus strain has been found in a number of states, including Arkansas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. More than 1.2 million birds have been killed by the disease or by authorities working to prevent it from spreading. No human infections have been found with the virus, USDA said.

Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said it's not surprising the disease showed up in Iowa after being discovered in neighboring states.

He said the appearance of the disease should concern the entire agriculture industry.

"Poultry is very important to the state, and the turkey industry and egg layers are major consumers of corn and soybeans," Olson said.

No disease has been discovered in an Iowa egg-laying operation.

Samples from the turkey flock, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Ames confirmed the findings.

Scientists and government officials believe the virus is being spread through migratory birds in the Mississippi flyway, where the strain previously has been identified. The birds are believed to transmit the illness through their droppings.

"We're not the first horse out of the gate on this," said Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

The industry and its producers have plans in place in the event a facility is hit by the disease. Biosecurity efforts are high, said Irwin and Olson.

"The one thing you can't control is Mother Nature and wild birds," Irwin said. "We've been watching and working and hoping and praying that it wouldn't happen, but it has."

Irwin said she's unsure about the exact location of the facility.

"Other farms close to the facility will be monitored," Irwin added, hopeful the outbreak will be an isolated occurrence.

She said the loss will be hard for the north Iowa farmer. That's true even though the federal government will reimburse for a portion of the cost.

"The main goal for farmers is to care for the livestock . when you see your livestock sick and suffering that concludes in death, it's very hard for farmers."


Contents

The most widely quoted date for the beginning of recorded history of avian influenza (initially known as fowl plague) was in 1878 when it was differentiated from other diseases that caused high mortality rates in birds. [12] Fowl plague, however, also included Newcastle disease until as recently as the 1950s. Between 1959 and 1995, there were 15 recorded occasions of the emergence of HPAI viruses in poultry, but losses were minimal. Between 1996 and 2008 however, HPAI outbreaks in poultry have occurred at least 11 times and 4 of these outbreaks have involved millions of birds. [12]

In the 1990s, the world's poultry population grew 76% in developing countries and 23% in developed countries, contributing to the increased prevalence of avian influenza. [13] Before the 1990s, HPAI caused high mortality in poultry, but infections were sporadic and contained. Outbreaks have become more common due to the high density and frequent movement of flocks from intensive poultry production.

Influenza A/H5N1 was first isolated from a goose in China in 1996. Human infections were first reported in 1997 in Hong Kong. [9] Since 2003, more than 700 human cases of Asian HPAI H5N1 have been reported to the WHO, primarily from 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, though over 60 countries have been affected. [9] [12]

Genetic factors in distinguishing between "human flu viruses" and "avian flu viruses" include:

PB2: (RNA polymerase): Amino acid (or residue) position 627 in the PB2 protein encoded by the PB2 RNA gene. Until H5N1, all known avian influenza viruses had a Glu at position 627, while all human influenza viruses had a Lys. [14] HA: (hemagglutinin): Avian influenza HA viruses bind alpha 2-3 sialic acid receptors, while human influenza HA viruses bind alpha 2-6 sialic acid receptors. Swine influenza viruses have the ability to bind both types of sialic acid receptors. Hemagglutinin is the major antigen of the virus against which neutralizing antibodies are produced, and influenza virus epidemics are associated with changes in its antigenic structure. This was originally derived from pigs, and should technically be referred to as "pig flu". [15]

The evolution of avian influenza virus has been influenced by genetic variation in the virus population due to genome segment reassortment and mutation. Also homologous recombination occurs in viral genes, suggesting that genetic variation generated by homologous recombination has also played a role in driving the evolution of the virus and potentially has affected virulence and host range. [16]

There are many subtypes of avian influenza viruses, but only some strains of five subtypes have been known to infect humans: H5N1, H7N3, H7N7, H7N9, and H9N2. [17] At least one person, an elderly woman in Jiangxi Province, China, died of pneumonia in December 2013 from the H10N8 strain. She was the first human fatality confirmed to be caused by that strain. [18]

Most human cases of the avian flu are a result of either handling dead infected birds or from contact with infected fluids. It can also be spread through contaminated surfaces and droppings. While most wild birds have only a mild form of the H5N1 strain, once domesticated birds such as chickens or turkeys are infected, H5N1 can potentially become much more deadly because the birds are often in close contact. H5N1 is a large threat in Asia with infected poultry due to low hygiene conditions and close quarters. Although it is easy for humans to contract the infection from birds, human-to-human transmission is more difficult without prolonged contact. However, public health officials are concerned that strains of avian flu may mutate to become easily transmissible between humans. [19]

Spreading of H5N1 from Asia to Europe is much more likely caused by both legal and illegal poultry trades than dispersing through wild bird migrations, being that in recent studies, there were no secondary rises in infection in Asia when wild birds migrate south again from their breeding grounds. Instead, the infection patterns followed transportation such as railroads, roads, and country borders, suggesting poultry trade as being much more likely. While there have been strains of avian flu to exist in the United States, they have been extinguished and have not been known to infect humans.

Examples of avian influenza A virus strains: [20]

HA subtype
designation
NA subtype
designation
Avian influenza A viruses
H1 N1 A/duck/Alberta/35/76(H1N1)
H1 N8 A/duck/Alberta/97/77(H1N8)
H2 N9 A/duck/Germany/1/72(H2N9)
H3 N8 A/duck/Ukraine/63(H3N8)
H3 N8 A/duck/England/62(H3N8)
H3 N2 A/turkey/England/69(H3N2)
H4 N6 A/duck/Czechoslovakia/56(H4N6)
H4 N3 A/duck/Alberta/300/77(H4N3)
H5 N3 A/tern/South Africa/300/77(H4N3)
H5 N4 A/Ethiopia/300/77(H6N6)
H5 N8 H5N8
H5 N9 A/turkey/Ontario/7732/66(H5N9)
H5 N1 A/chick/Scotland/59(H5N1)
H6 N2 A/turkey/Massachusetts/3740/65(H6N2)
H6 N8 A/turkey/Canada/63(H6N8)
H6 N5 A/shearwater/Australia/72(H6N5)
H6 N1 A/duck/Germany/1868/68(H6N1)
H7 N7 A/fowl plague virus/Dutch/27(H7N7)
H7 N1 A/chick/Brescia/1902(H7N1)
H7 N9 A/chick/China/2013(H7N9)
H7 N3 A/turkey/England/639H7N3)
H7 N1 A/fowl plague virus/Rostock/34(H7N1)
H8 N4 A/turkey/Ontario/6118/68(H8N4)
H9 N2 A/turkey/Wisconsin/1/66(H9N2)
H9 N6 A/duck/Hong Kong/147/77(H9N6)
H9 N6 A/duck/Hong Kong/147/77(H9N6)
H9 N7 A/turkey/Scotland/70(H9N7)
H10 N8 A/quail/Italy/1117/65(H10N8)
H11 N6 A/duck/England/56(H11N6)
H11 N9 A/duck/Memphis/546/74(H11N9)
H12 N5 A/duck/Alberta/60/76/(H12N5)
H13 N6 A/gull/Maryland/704/77(H13N6)
H14 N4 A/duck/Gurjev/263/83(H14N4)
H15 N9 A/shearwater/Australia/2576/83(H15N9)

Avian influenza is most often spread by contact between infected and healthy birds, though can also be spread indirectly through contaminated equipment. [21] The virus is found in secretions from the nostrils, mouth, and eyes of infected birds as well as their droppings. HPAI infection is spread to people often through direct contact with infected poultry, such as during slaughter or plucking. [21] Though the virus can spread through airborne secretions, the disease itself is not an airborne disease. Highly pathogenic strains spread quickly among flocks and can destroy a flock within 28 hours the less pathogenic strains may affect egg production but are much less deadly. [ citation needed ]

Although it is possible for humans to contract the avian influenza virus from birds, human-to-human contact is much more difficult without prolonged contact. However, public health officials are concerned that strains of avian flu may mutate to become easily transmissible between humans. [19] Some strains of avian influenza are present in the intestinal tract of large numbers of shore birds and water birds, but these strains rarely cause human infection. [22]

Five manmade ecosystems have contributed to modern avian influenza virus ecology: integrated indoor commercial poultry, range-raised commercial poultry, live poultry markets, backyard and hobby flocks, and bird collection and trading systems including cockfighting. Indoor commercial poultry has had the largest impact on the spread of HPAI, with the increase in HPAI outbreaks largely the result of increased commercial production since the 1990s. [13]

Village poultry Edit

In the early days of the HPAI H5N1 pandemic, village poultry and their owners were frequently implicated in disease transmission. [13] Village poultry, also known as backyard and hobby flocks, are small flocks raised under extensive conditions and often allowed free range between multiple households. However, research has shown that these flocks pose less of a threat than intensively raised commercial poultry with homogenous genetic stock and poor biosecurity. [13] Backyard and village poultry also do not travel great distances compared to transport of intensively raised poultry and contribute less to the spread of HPAI. [23] This initial implication of Asian poultry farmers as one broad category presented challenges to prevention recommendations as commercial strategies did not necessarily apply to backyard poultry flocks.

The highly pathogenic influenza A virus subtype H5N1 is an emerging avian influenza virus that is causing global concern as a potential pandemic threat. It is often referred to simply as "bird flu" or "avian influenza", even though it is only one of many subtypes.

H5N1 has killed millions of poultry in a growing number of countries throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. Health experts are concerned that the coexistence of human flu viruses and avian flu viruses (especially H5N1) will provide an opportunity for genetic material to be exchanged between species-specific viruses, possibly creating a new virulent influenza strain that is easily transmissible and lethal to humans. The mortality rate for humans with H5N1 is 60%. [ citation needed ]

Since the first human H5N1 outbreak occurred in 1997, there has been an increasing number of HPAI H5N1 bird-to-human transmissions, leading to clinically severe and fatal human infections. Because a significant species barrier exists between birds and humans, the virus does not easily spread to humans, however some cases of infection are being researched to discern whether human-to-human transmission is occurring. [24] More research is necessary to understand the pathogenesis and epidemiology of the H5N1 virus in humans. Exposure routes and other disease transmission characteristics, such as genetic and immunological factors that may increase the likelihood of infection, are not clearly understood. [25]

The first known transmission of H5N1 to a human occurred in Hong Kong in 1997, when there was an outbreak of 18 human cases 6 deaths were confirmed. None of the infected people worked with poultry. After culling all of the poultry in the area, no more cases were diagnosed. [22] In 2006, the first human-to-human transmission likely occurred when 7 members of a family in Sumatra became infected after contact with a family member who had worked with infected poultry. [26]

Although millions of birds have become infected with the virus since its discovery, 359 people have died from H5N1 in twelve countries according to World Health Organization reports as of August 10, 2012. [27]

The H5N1 outbreak in Thailand caused massive economic losses, especially among poultry workers. Infected birds were culled and slaughtered. The public lost confidence with the poultry products, thus decreasing the consumption of chicken products. This also elicited a ban from importing countries. There were, however, factors which aggravated the spread of the virus, including bird migration, cool temperature (increases virus survival) and several festivals at that time. [28]

A mutation in the virus was discovered in two Guangdong patients in February 2017 which rendered it more deadly to chickens, inasmuch as it could infect every organ the risk to humans was not increased, however. [29]

Controversial research Edit

A study published in 2012 in Science Magazine reported on research findings that allowed for the airborne transmission of H5N1 in laboratory ferrets. The study identified the 5 mutations necessary for the virus to become airborne and immediately sparked controversy over the ethical implications of making such potentially dangerous information available to the general public. The study was allowed to remain available in its entirety, though it remains a controversial topic within the scientific community.

The study in question, however, created airborne H5N1 via amino acid substitutions that largely mitigated the devastating effects of the disease. This fact was underscored by the 0% fatality rate among the ferrets infected via airborne transmission, as well as the fundamental biology underlying the substitutions. Flu viruses attach to host cells via the hemagluttinin proteins on their envelope. These hemagluttinin proteins bind to sialic acid receptors on host cells, which can fall into two categories. The sialic acid receptors can be either 2,3 or 2,6-linked, with the species of origin largely deciding receptor preference. In influenzas of avian origin 2,3-linkage is preferred, vs. influenzas of human origin in which 2,6-linkage is preferable. 2,3-linked SA receptors in humans are found predominantly in the lower respiratory tract, a fact that is the primary foundation for the deadliness of avian influenzas in humans, and also the key to their lack of airborne transmission. In the study that created an airborne avian influenza among ferrets it was necessary to switch the receptor preference of the host cells to those of 2,6-linkage, found predominantly in humans' upper respiratory tract, in order to create an infection that could shed aerosolized virus particles. Such an infection, however, must occur in the upper respiratory tract of humans, thus fundamentally undercutting the fatal trajectory of the disease. [30]

Influenza A virus subtype H7N9 is a novel avian influenza virus first reported to have infected humans in 2013 in China. [31] Most of the reported cases of human infection have resulted in severe respiratory illness. [32] In the month following the report of the first case, more than 100 people had been infected, an unusually high rate for a new infection a fifth of those patients had died, a fifth had recovered, and the rest remained critically ill. [33] The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified H7N9 as ". an unusually dangerous virus for humans." [34] As of June 30, 133 cases have been reported, resulting in the deaths of 43.

Research regarding background and transmission is ongoing. [35] It has been established that many of the human cases of H7N9 appear to have a link to live bird markets. [36] As of July 2013, there had been no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, however a study group headed by one of the world's leading experts on avian flu reported that several instances of human-to-human infection were suspected. [37] It has been reported that H7N9 virus does not kill poultry, which will make surveillance much more difficult. Researchers have commented on the unusual prevalence of older males among H7N9-infected patients. [38] While several environmental, behavioral, and biological explanations for this pattern have been proposed, [39] as yet, the reason is unknown. [40] Currently no vaccine exists, but the use of influenza antiviral drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors in cases of early infection may be effective. [41]

The number of cases detected after April fell abruptly. The decrease in the number of new human H7N9 cases may have resulted from containment measures taken by Chinese authorities, including closing live bird markets, or from a change in seasons, or possibly a combination of both factors. Studies indicate that avian influenza viruses have a seasonal pattern, thus it is thought that infections may pick up again when the weather turns cooler in China. [42]

In the four years from early 2013 to early 2017, 916 lab-confirmed human cases of H7N9 were reported to WHO. [11]

On 9 January 2017, the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China reported to WHO 106 cases which occurred from late November through December. 29, 2016. The cases are reported from Jiangsu (52), Zhejiang (21), Anhui (14), Guangdong (14), Shanghai (2), Fujian (2) and Hunan (1). 80 of these 106 persons have visited live poultry markets. Of these cases, there have been 35 deaths. In two of the 106 cases, human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out. [11]

Affected prefectures in Jiangsu province closed live poultry markets in late December 2016, whereas Zhejiang, Guangdong and Anhui provinces went the route of strengthening live poultry market regulations. Travellers to affected regions are recommended to avoid poultry farms, live bird markets, and surfaces which appear to be contaminated with poultry feces. Similar sudden increases in the number of human cases of H7N9 have occurred in previous years during December and January. [11]

Several domestic species have been infected with and shown symptoms of H5N1 viral infection, including cats, dogs, ferrets, pigs, and birds. [43]

Birds Edit

Attempts are made in the United States to minimize the presence of HPAI in poultry through routine surveillance of poultry flocks in commercial poultry operations. Detection of a HPAI virus may result in immediate culling of the flock. Less pathogenic viruses are controlled by vaccination, which is done primarily in turkey flocks (ATCvet codes: QI01AA23 ( WHO ) for the inactivated fowl vaccine, QI01CL01 ( WHO ) for the inactivated turkey combination vaccine). [44]

Cats Edit

Avian influenza in cats can show a variety of symptoms and usually lead to death. Cats are able to get infected by either consuming an infected bird or by contracting the virus from another infected cat.

In 2005, the formation of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza was announced in order to elevate the importance of avian flu, coordinate efforts, and improve disease reporting and surveillance in order to better respond to future pandemics. New networks of laboratories have emerged to detect and respond to avian flu, such as the Crisis Management Center for Animal Health, the Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance, OFFLU, and the Global Early Warning System for major animal diseases. After the 2003 outbreak, WHO member states have also recognized the need for more transparent and equitable sharing of vaccines and other benefits from these networks. [45] Cooperative measures created in response to HPAI have served as a basis for programs related to other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

HPAI control has also been used for political ends. In Indonesia, negotiations with global response networks were used to recentralize power and funding to the Ministry of Health. [46] In Vietnam policymakers, with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), used HPAI control to accelerate the industrialization of livestock production for export by proposing to increase the portion of large-scale commercial farms and reducing the number of poultry keepers from 8 to 2 million by 2010. [47]

Bird Flu in 2020 Edit

By the end of 2020 several outbreaks of Avian flu of various varieties were reported in Europe. Since mid-October several European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have reported outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses, mostly in wild birds. Positive tests were also among poultry and captive birds. According to a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), three varieties of HPAI viruses were found, A(H5N8), A(H5N5) and A(H5N1), with H5N8 being the most commonly found. [48] In Germany 29,000 chickens were killed to halt the spread of H5N8. [49] In Belgium H5N5 was found on a poultry farm according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreak was reported in Menen, near the border with France, and killed 600 birds and the culling of an additional 151,000 chickens from the flock. [50]

Stigma Edit

Backyard poultry production was viewed as "traditional Asian" agricultural practices that contrasted with modern commercial poultry production and seen as a threat to biosecurity. Backyard production appeared to hold greater risk than commercial production due to lack of biosecurity and close contact with humans, though HPAI spread in intensively raised flocks was greater due to high density rearing and genetic homogeneity. [13] [51] Asian culture itself was blamed as the reason why certain interventions, such as those that only looked at placed-based interventions, would fail without looking for a multifaceted solutions. [47]

Indonesia Edit

Press accounts of avian flu in Indonesia were seen by poultry farmers as conflating suspected cases while the public did see the accounts as informative, though many became de-sensitized to the idea of impending danger or only temporarily changed their poultry-related behavior. [52] Rumors also circulated in Java in 2006. These tended to focus on bird flu being linked to big businesses in order to drive small farmers out of the market by exaggerating the danger of avian influenza, avian flu being introduced by foreigners to force Indonesians to purchase imported chicken and keep Indonesian chicken off the world market, and the government using avian flu as a ploy to attract funds from wealthy countries. Such rumors reflected concerns about big businesses, globalization, and a distrust of the national government in a country where "the amount of decentralization here is breathtaking" according to Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in Jakarta in 2006. [52]

In the context a decentralized national government that the public did not completely trust, Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari announced in December 2006 that her government would no longer be sharing samples of H5N1 collected from Indonesian patients. This decision came as a shock to the international community as it disrupted the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN) coordinated by the WHO for managing seasonal and pandemic influenza. GISN is based on countries sharing virus specimens freely with the WHO which assesses and eventually sends these samples to pharmaceutical companies in order to produce vaccines that are sold back to these countries. [46] Though this was initially seen as an attempt to protect national sovereignty at all costs, it was instead used for a domestic political struggle. Prior to Indonesia's dispute with the GISN, the Ministry of Health, already weak due to the decentralized nature the government, was experiencing further leakage of funding to state and non-state agencies due to global health interventions. By reasserting control over public health issues and funding by setting itself up as the sole Indonesian representative to the WHO, the Ministry of Health made itself a key player in the management of future international funds relating vaccine production and renegotiated benefits from global surveillance networks.

Economic Edit

Approximately 20% of the protein consumed in developing countries come from poultry. [13] In the wake of the H5N1 pandemic, millions of poultry were killed. In Vietnam alone, over 50 million domestic birds were killed due to HPAI infection and control attempts. [53] A 2005 report by the FAO totaled economic losses in South East Asia around US$10 billion. [53] This had the greatest impact on small scale commercial and backyard producers relative to total assets compared to industrial chains which primarily experience temporary decreases in exports and loss of consumer confidence. Some governments did provide compensation for culled poultry, it was often far below market value (close to 30% of market value in Vietnam), while others such as Cambodia provide no compensation to farmers at all.

As poultry serves as a source of food security and liquid assets, the most vulnerable populations were poor small scale farmers. [47] The loss of birds due to HPAI and culling in Vietnam led to an average loss of 2.3 months of production and US$69–108 for households where many have an income of $2 a day or less. [53] The loss of food security for vulnerable households can be seen in the stunting of children under 5 in Egypt. [13] Women are another population at risk as in most regions of the world, small flocks are tended to by women. [54] Widespread culling also resulted in the decreased enrollment of girls in school in Turkey. [13]

People who do not regularly come into contact with birds are not at high risk for contracting avian influenza. Those at high risk include poultry farm workers, animal control workers, wildlife biologists, and ornithologists who handle live birds. [19] Organizations with high-risk workers should have an avian influenza response plan in place before any cases have been discovered. Biosecurity of poultry flocks is also important for prevention. Flocks should be isolated from outside birds, especially wild birds, and their waste vehicles used around the flock should be regularly disinfected and not shared between farms and birds from slaughter channels should not be returned to the farm. [55]

With proper infection control and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the chance for infection is low. Protecting the eyes, nose, mouth, and hands is important for prevention because these are the most common ways for the virus to enter the body. Appropriate personal protective equipment includes aprons or coveralls, gloves, boots or boot covers, and a head cover or hair cover. Disposable PPE is recommended. An N-95 respirator and unvented/indirectly vented safety goggles are also part of appropriate PPE. A powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) with hood or helmet and face shield is also an option. [22]

Proper reporting of an isolated case can help to prevent spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US) recommendation is that if a worker develops symptoms within 10 days of working with infected poultry or potentially contaminated materials, they should seek care and notify their employer, who should notify public health officials. [22]

For future avian influenza threats, the WHO suggests a 3 phase, 5 part plan. [56]

  • Phase 1: Pre-pandemic
    • Reduce opportunities for human infection
    • Strengthen the early warning system
    • Contain or delay spread at the source
    • Reduce morbidity, mortality, and social disruption
    • Conduct research to guide response measures

    Vaccines for poultry have been formulated against several of the avian H5N1 influenza varieties. Control measures for HPAI encourage mass vaccinations of poultry though The World Health Organization has compiled a list of known clinical trials of pandemic influenza prototype vaccines, including those against H5N1. [57] In some countries still at high risk for HPAI spread, there is compulsory strategic vaccination though vaccine supply shortages remain a problem. [13]

    For village poultry farmers Edit

    During the initial response to H5N1, a one size fits all recommendation was used for all poultry production systems, though measures for intensively raised birds were not necessarily appropriate for extensively raised birds. When looking at village-raised poultry, it was first assumed that the household was the unit and that flocks did not make contact with other flocks, though more effective measures came into use when the epidemiological unit was the village. [13]

    Recommendations involve restructuring commercial markets to improve biosecurity against avian influenza. Poultry production zoning is used to limit poultry farming to specific areas outside of urban environments while live poultry markets improve biosecurity by limiting the number of traders holding licenses and subjecting producers and traders to more stringent inspections. These recommendations in combination with requirements to fence and house all poultry, and to limit free ranging flocks, will eventually lead to fewer small commercial producers and backyard producers, costing livelihoods as they are unable to meet the conditions needed to participate. [47]

    A summary of reports to the World Organisation for Animal Health in 2005 and 2010 suggest that surveillance and under-reporting in developed and developing countries is still a challenge. [13] Often, donor support can focus on HPAI control alone, while similar diseases such as Newcastle disease, acute fowl cholera, infectious laryngotracheitis, and infectious bursal disease still affect poultry populations. When HPAI tests come back negative, a lack of funded testing for differential diagnoses can leave farmers wondering what killed their birds.

    Since traditional production systems require little investment and serve as a safety net for lower income households, prevention and treatment can be seen as less cost-effective than letting poultry die. [47] [53] Effective control not only requires prior agreements to be made with relevant government agencies, such as seen with Indonesia, they must also not unduly threaten food security. [46]

    Culling Edit

    Culling is used in order to decrease the threat of avian influenza transmission by killing potentially infected birds. The FAO manual on HPAI control recommends a zoning strategy which begins with the identification of an infected area (IA) where sick or dead birds have tested positive. All poultry in this zone are culled while the area 1 to 5 km from the outer boundary of the IA is considered the restricted area (RA) placed under strict surveillance. 2 to 10 km from the RA is the control area (CA) that serves as a buffer zone in case of spread. Culling is not recommended beyond the IA unless there is evidence of spread. [23] The manual, however, also provides examples of how control was carried out between 2004 and 2005 to contain H5N1 where all poultry was to be stamped out in a 3 km radius beyond the infected point and beyond that a 5 km radius where all fowl was to be vaccinated. This culling method was indiscriminate as a large proportion of the poultry inside these areas were small backyard flocks which did not travel great enough distances to carry infection to adjacent villages without human effort and may have not been infected at all. [23] Between 2004 and 2005, over 100 million chickens were culled in Asia to contain H5N1. [58]

    The risk of mass culling of birds and the resulting economic impact led to farmers who were reluctant to report sick poultry. The culls often preempted actual lab testing for H5N1 as avian flu policy justified sacrificing poultry as a safeguard against HPAI spread. [51] In response to these policies, farmers in Vietnam between 2003 and 2004 became more and more unwilling to surrender apparently healthy birds to authorities and stole poultry destined for culls as it stripped poultry of their biosocial and economic worth. By the end of 2005, the government implemented a new policy that targeted high-risk flock in the immediate vicinity of infected farms and instituted voluntary culling with compensation in the case of a local outbreak. [51]

    Not only did culling result in severe economic impacts especially for small scale farmers, culling itself may be an ineffective preventative measure. In the short-term, mass culling achieves its goals of limiting the immediate spread of HPAI, it has been found to impede the evolution of host resistance which is important for the long-term success of HPAI control. Mass culling also selects for elevated influenza virulence and results in the greater mortality of birds overall. [58] Effective culling strategies must be selective as well as considerate of economic impacts to optimize epidemiological control and minimize economic and agricultural destruction.

    People-poultry relations Edit

    Prevention and control programs must take into account local understandings of people-poultry relations. In the past, programs that have focused on singular, place-based understandings of disease transmission have been ineffective. In the case of Northern Vietnam, health workers saw poultry as commodities with an environment that was under the control of people. Poultry existed in the context of farms, markets, slaughterhouses, and roads while humans were indirectly the primary transmitters of avian flu, placing the burden of disease control on people. However, farmers saw their free ranging poultry in an environment dominated by nonhuman forces that they could not exert control over. There were a host of nonhuman actors such as wild birds and weather patterns whose relationships with the poultry fostered the disease and absolved farmers of complete responsibility for disease control. [47]

    Attempts at singular, place-based controls sought to teach farmers to identify areas where their behavior could change without looking at poultry behaviors. Behavior recommendations by Vietnam's National Steering Committee for Avian Influenza Control and Prevention (NSCAI) were drawn from the FAO Principles of Biosecurity. [47] These included restrictions from entering areas where poultry are kept by erecting barriers to segregate poultry from non-human contact, limits on human movement of poultry and poultry-related products ideally to transporters, and recommendations for farmers to wash hands and footwear before and after contact with poultry. [47] [59] Farmers, pointed to wind and environmental pollution as reasons poultry would get sick. NSCAI recommendations also would disrupt longstanding livestock production practices as gates impede sales by restricting assessment of birds by appearance and offend customers by limiting outside human contact. Instead of incorporating local knowledge into recommendations, cultural barriers were used as scapegoats for failed interventions. Prevention and control methods have been more effective when also considering the social, political, and ecological agents in play. [47]


    Timeline: Tracing the bird flu outbreak in N. American poultry flocks

    The United States is facing its worst outbreak on record of avian influenza in poultry as three deadly strains have hit North American flocks since December. More than 47 million chickens and turkeys have been killed or will be culled, and U.S. egg prices are projected to set an annual record high because of the losses.

    So far, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been confirmed in 21 U.S. states, either in commercial flocks, wild birds, or both. Four states have declared an emergency: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The virus has also been confirmed in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario.

    Below is a timeline of the spread of the disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Canada's Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and responses by the industry and trade partners.

    Wild birds are thought to be carriers of the virus, which also can be tracked onto poultry farms by people or trucks that come into contact with contaminated feces. It may also be carried into poultry barns by wind blowing in contaminated dirt or dust.

    Dec. 2, 2014 - The CFIA quarantines two turkey and chicken farms in Canada's British Columbia province after an H5 type of avian influenza is detected there, later confirmed to be the H5N2 strain.

    Dec. 3 - South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan impose restrictions on British Columbian poultry and products.

    Dec. 8 - The United States suspends imports of birds and hatching eggs, poultry meat, eggs and egg products and animal byproducts from British Columbia.

    Dec. 19 - The outbreak's first U.S. case is confirmed as H5N8 avian influenza strain is found in a mixed poultry flock in Douglas County, Oregon.

    Dec. 20 - South Korea, one of the top buyers of U.S. poultry, halts imports of poultry and poultry products from the United States.

    Jan. 3, 2015 - The first case of the highly contagious H5N2 avian influenza strain confirmed in a backyard flock of 140 mixed birds in Benton County, Washington.

    Jan. 6 - Mexico, the largest market for U.S. poultry at $1.2 billion in 2014, bans imports from states with confirmed cases.

    Jan. 7 - No. 2 U.S. poultry importer Canada bans imports from affected areas.

    Jan. 8 - Imports of U.S. poultry, poultry products and eggs banned by China.

    Jan. 23 - H5N8 appears for the first time in a commercial turkey flock of 134,400 birds in California.

    Feb. 2 - The CFIA finds the H5N1 virus in a backyard poultry flock in British Columbia.

    Feb. 12 - The first commercial chicken flock is hit with H5N8. The Kings County, California, flock had 112,900 birds.

    March 4 - The first instance of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) along the Mississippi migratory flyway is confirmed in a commercial flock of 26,310 turkeys in Minnesota, the top U.S. turkey producing state. The flyway runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern Midwest along the Mississippi River valley. The virus is thought to be traveling with wild birds as they migrate north.

    April 6 - The CFIA confirms an H5 HPAI strain on a turkey farm in Ontario. A day later, Japan and Taiwan impose restrictions on poultry and products from the region.

    April 11 - The H5N2 strain is confirmed for the first time in a commercial chicken operation, hitting 200,000 egg-laying hens in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

    April 20 - The biggest flock hit so far, as H5N2 is confirmed in 4 million egg-laying hens in Osceola County, Iowa. Mexico expands its import ban to include live birds and eggs from Iowa - the top egg-producer in the United States.

    April 20 - Wisconsin declares a state of emergency.

    April 23 - Minnesota declares a state of emergency.

    April 29 - Saudi Arabia, the world's second-largest importer of chicken broiler meat, bans imports of poultry meat and egg products from Ontario.

    April 29 - A chicken broiler breeding farm in Kossuth County, Iowa, initially tests positive for H5 bird flu, believed to be the first case at a broiler breeding farm.

    May 1 - USDA confirms bird flu in nine more commercial flocks, including a 4.9 million-bird flock of egg-laying hens in Buena Vista County, Iowa, the largest finding to date.

    May 1 - Iowa declares a state of emergency.

    May 5 - U.S. government approves $330 million in emergency funds to fight bird flu spread.

    May 11 - USDA confirms H5N8 avian flu in a backyard poultry flock in Indiana.

    May 12 - USDA confirms H5N2 avian flu at a commercial egg-laying farm in Nebraska.

    May 14 - Nebraska declares a state of emergency.

    May 22 - Some U.S. food companies are scouting for egg supplies abroad, due to the flu outbreak. It is estimated that about 30 percent of U.S. breaker eggs - which includes liquid, dried or frozen eggs used by food manufacturers - has disappeared in the wake of the virus.

    June 8 - Michigan says Canada geese in the state test positive for lethal strain of bird flu, becoming the sixth state to detect it only in wild or free-ranging birds.


    U.S. finds first case of H5N2 bird flu in commercial chicken flock

    CHICAGO (Reuters) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday confirmed the first case of a lethal strain of bird flu in a commercial chicken flock, widening the impact of a virus that has already killed hundreds of thousands of turkeys this year.

    The H5N2 flu strain infected a commercial flock of 200,000 chickens in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, between Madison and Milwaukee, according to the USDA.

    Since the beginning of the year, the flu, which can kill nearly an entire flock within 48 hours, has been found in commercial turkey operations and backyard poultry flocks stretching from Oregon to Arkansas.

    The discoveries have prompted buyers, including Canada, China and Mexico, to restrict imports of U.S. poultry. Producers such as Tyson Foods Inc. have strengthened measures to keep the disease off farms.

    The infected chickens in Wisconsin were at an egg-laying facility, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said.

    State officials quarantined the premises and birds there will be culled to prevent the spread of the disease. Chickens from the flock will not enter the food system, officials said.

    “We are following strict protocols to contain and eliminate the disease,” said Paul McGraw, Wisconsin’s state veterinarian.


    New bird flu cases probable in Iowa, millions of birds affected

    Initial tests have found probable avian influenza outbreaks at five new commercial poultry sites in Iowa, affecting more than 6 million birds, the state's agriculture department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday.

    Additional tests are pending to confirm the highly pathogenic H5N2 that is rapidly spreading, agency officials said. Positive results would push the outbreak's national tally to more than 15.1 million affected birds from commercial flocks in 13 states.

    In the avian influenza outbreak of 1983 to 1984 in the northeast, which was the largest in U.S. history, about 17 million birds were culled.

    "This is a big deal," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said during a conference call on Monday. "Going forward, the question is are we done? Or does this mean more birds as we go forward."

    Iowa state officials have quarantined the five farm sites, Northey said. Positive test results would mean that more than 9.5 million birds in Iowa have been affected by the virus.

    Iowa farms, on average, house an estimated 60 million egg-laying hens, Northey said.

    Also on Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that a Wisconsin turkey farm with more than 1 million birds has tested positive for the virus. More than 1.9 million commercial production chickens and turkeys in Wisconsin have been affected by H5N2, state and federal officials have said.

    The potential economic cost of the outbreak is unclear.

    Hormel Foods Corp (HRL.N), based in Minnesota, said last week that avian influenza may drag its fiscal 2015 earnings toward the lower end of forecasts. More than two dozen of the poultry suppliers for Hormel's Jennie-O Turkey Store unit have been hit by the outbreak. Minnesota is the largest turkey-producing state in the country.

    Last Tuesday, Mexico, the biggest buyer of U.S. chicken, halted imports of live birds and eggs from Iowa.

    Two bird flu strains have been discovered in the United States this year. The H5N2 strain is in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. It has also been identified on farms in Ontario, Canada.

    The H5N8 strain has been identified in California and also in Idaho, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.

    Wisconsin and Minnesota have each declared a state of emergency over the outbreak.

    Minnesota health officials said last week they were expediting prescriptions for antiviral drug Tamiflu for farm workers and others who have had direct contact with infected flocks. No human infections have been reported in this outbreak.

    The virus has not been reported in the country's leading chicken meat producing states in the South, which include Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina.

    The number of birds affected by the outbreak so far represents a fraction of the U.S. commercial flock. Chicken dominates U.S. poultry production. Poultry processors slaughtered nearly 8.7 billion chickens in 2014 and about 237 million turkeys, according Agriculture Department data.

    Iowa, the leading U.S. producer of table eggs, has been hardest hit in this outbreak, which was first identified in a backyard poultry flock in Oregon in December.

    The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship said on Monday that initial positive tests for H5 avian influenza have been found in a commercial egg-laying farm with an estimated 1.7 million birds in Sioux County a 250,000 egg-layer pullet farm in Osceola County and in two commercial egg-laying operations in O'Brien County with a total of 338,000 birds.

    Northey said a fifth farm, an egg-laying operation in Sioux County, with another 3.8 million chickens was identified on Monday as probably infected.

    The five sites have been quarantined, state agriculture officials said. If the tests are confirmed, all birds on the properties will be euthanized.

    Iowa said last week that a lethal strain of bird flu had been found in hens at an egg-laying facility near the city of Harris run by Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company. The company said that facility houses 3.8 million hens.

    The virus can kill nearly an entire infected flock within 48 hours. Millions of turkeys and chickens are in quarantine waiting to be culled and large flocks have already been destroyed.

    Officials have said they believe wild birds are spreading the virus but they do not know how it is entering barns.



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