The number of bird flu cases in the state more than doubled Monday in a rapidly changing situation. The Iowa Department of Agriculture issued a news release that it was investigating four probable news cases of the avian flu in commercial poultry farms in Osceola, O’Brien and Sioux Counties in Northwest Iowa. By the time Ag Secretary Bill Northey held a conference call with reporters at 3:15, he had a fifth possible case to report in Sioux County.
“That is 3.7 million layers, that also has turned in a presumptive positive, a probable case of H-5 as well,” Northey says. The other facilities are a commercial laying operation in Sioux County with 1.7 million birds, two egg laying facilities in O’Brien County, one with 240,000 birds, and the other with 98,000 birds. Northey was asked about the impact on the state’s egg industry thus far.
“Total numbers were are talking about here is about 9.5 million layers that would be impacted, that’s out of the nearly 60 million layers we have here in Iowa, so we’re talking one-sixth,” Northey says. “Certainly Iowa’s numbers are bigger than most states, there’s a lot of states out there under 30 million layers — so this is a big number.”
The other new probable case of the H5N2 virus involves 250,000 pullets in Osceola County. Pullets are chickens that become egg layers once they are grown. There are also two confirmed cases of the disease in turkey farms in Buena Vista and Sac County. Northey was asked about the impact of the disease on the price of turkeys and chicken products from the disease in Iowa and other states.
“We’re talking about 80,000 birds in Iowa, we’re talking north of two-and-a-half million birds in Minnesota, turkeys, that’s a big number. That’s somewhere near one fourth to one fifth of the turkeys in Minnesota, they’re the biggest producer. That could have an impact,” Northey says. “We’re at the point of nearly 10 million layers in Iowa, that could have an impact as well.”
Northey says the impact depends on how many more cases are found in the state, and he says they can’t predict that. Minnesota’s governor declared a state of emergency following the influenza outbreak there. Northey says his staff and the U.S.D.A. have been handling things at this point and he isn’t sure if Iowa will need such a declaration. “I think we will continue to have conversations about what that might get us. What kind of help that will get us as well. I’m certainly not ready to announce anything like that today, and don’t know if that would come or will come in the future,” Northey says. He says all the animals at the first turkey plant identified with the disease have been destroyed and the birds at the second plant will be destroyed this week. Northey says the new facilities have been quarantined, and they are investigating nearby facilities for more possible cases.
Veterinarian T.J. Myers of the U.S.D.A. joined Northey on the call and says there has not been any cases of avian flu in humans. He says the quick quarantine measures used also provide other protections.”It’s highly unlikely that any meat from affected poultry would get into the food supply,” according to Myers. Doctor Myers says they anticipate warmer temperatures will lead to a drop in avian flu cases, as the disease thrives in colder temperatures. Myers says outbreaks of this type are relatively rare.
“We’ve only had three other outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the past century in the U.S.,” Myers says. “And the most severe prior to what we are dealing with currently was in 1983.” Myers says the disease is believed to be spread by wild waterfowl.