A team of wildlife biologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be trapping and testing small mammals and birds in Iowa for avian influenza over the next couple of weeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no confirmed cases of avian flu in mammals. But, USDA epidemiologist Dr. Brian McCluskey says small rodents could still play a role in the spread of the virus.
“There’s actually evidence in the scientific literature that mice and other small rodents can actually carry the virus. Maybe not as a biological vector, but as a mechanical one, so the virus may be drug in on the animal itself,” McCluskey says. In other words, a mouse might transmit the virus to a chicken or turkey barn by carrying infected material on its fur or paws.
USDA epidemiologists will also be interviewing workers at poultry operations about bio security practices. Surveying will be done at both affected and unaffected sites.
Meanwhile, consumers may notice the cost of eggs has risen in the last month. While this may relate to the outbreaks of avian flu, the disease is not entirely to blame. Egg prices typically rise in May. So costs were already expected to climb, when avian flu outbreaks began this spring. But this month’s price bump isn’t totally independent of the virus.
Avian flu has depleted Iowa’s layer-hen population by about a third. And the cost of a dozen large white eggs is up 5 cents, compared to this time last year.
Randy Olson, of the Iowa Poultry Association, says it’s too early to know the price consequences of avian influenza for consumers. “We are just one state of, we assume, 50 that produce eggs across the country. We’re an important state, but we’re not the only state,” Olson says.
Ultimately, a lot rides on how many more hens are lost to the bird flu. Officials are hopeful hot summer weather will soon kill the virus. There are now 50 confirmed or probable cases of avian influenza in Iowa. An egg-laying operation in Sioux County has been added to the list of sites with outbreaks of the bird flu virus.
(Reporting by Sarah Boden, Iowa Public Radio; additional reporting by Pat Curtis, Radio Iowa)