Avian flu hitting close to home in Ohio
Migrating waterfowl catch most of the blame for spreading two new strains of avian influenza across the U.S. But they may not be the only culprits, according to a researcher at Ohio State University.
Although humans are not susceptible to the H5N2 and H5N8 strains, the viruses are killing laying chickens and turkeys by the million in barnyards and commercial barns across the country.
Since December, an estimated 39 million layers have died or been euthanized in Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and elsewhere. As a result, egg prices have increased 80 percent nationwide, according to broadcast reports.
Minnesota, the nation's largest turkey producer, lost five million birds. Hormel Foods was forced to lay off 230 employees at its Jennie-O turkey packing facility, published reports said.
Migrating waterfowl, especially Canada geese, are believed to carry the diseases, although they are unaffected by it, according to Dr. Chang-Won Lee at OSU.
Lee said wild birds alone cannot be responsible for all farm-to-farm spread of the deadly H5N2 virus.
"Wild birds cannot transmit the virus to all these farms," Lee said. "Many of the affected farms in Iowa and other states are known for their high bio-security standards."
Although the viruses have not been detected in Ohio, they are creeping dangerously close. A wild bird in southwestern Kentucky tested positive for H5N2 in March. On May 11, H5N8 was found in a backyard flock in Indiana.
"We (in Ohio) have to prepare for the worst case," Lee said.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture urges poultry, egg and turkey farmers in northwestern Ohio to mitigate on-farm contact between their domestic flocks and wild birds.
But at the same time, farmers must increase bio-security practices "beyond 100 percent," Lee said.
ODA spokesperson Erica Pitchford Hawkins said sanitizing equipment – especially workers' clothing and boots – is critical. Workers should also shower as they move from barn to barn.
"Fan filters in commercial barns need to be changed often," she added.
Lee said county fairs may suffer from the new avian flu this summer.
"We have to consider canceling or minimizing…county fairs and activities that involve the movement of birds," he said.
Farmers and outdoor enthusiasts are urged to immediately report any unusual observations of domestic and wild birds to the ODA.