SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Avian flu has been confirmed at 21 locations in South Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Eighteen of those locations are in commercial turkey productions. At least 800,000 turkeys have been impacted as of March 30.

About 124,000 chickens were impacted at an egg laying production site. The flu was also confirmed at a commercial mixed-species site with 47,330 birds in the flock. The flu was also confirmed in a backyard flock of 150 birds.

“As for South Dakota we are well beyond the (number of sites) in 2015,” said state assistant veterinarian Dr. Mendel Miller. “I would imagine we over the number of birds too.”

Ten sites were impacted in 2015. Nine were in commercial turkey sites and one was in a commercial egg laying site, according to the USDA.

Turkeys were vulnerable to avian flu in 2014-2015, said Carol Cardona, a veterinarian with the poultry science department at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Cardona is the Pomeroy Endowed Chair in Avian Health.

While turkeys are catching the avian flu this year, the virus is more adept at infecting chickens than in 2015, Cardona said.

“2015 was a different outbreak than 2022,” Cardona said.

“This one for sure has new challenges because it appears that unlike 2015, this particular virus can go directly from the wild bird host to chickens,” Cardona said. “In 2015 what we saw was the virus from the wild birds seemed to be able go into turkeys. Then it needed passage there to adapt and change to be able to get into chickens.”

The way this virus can be spread can create more challenges for those who have chickens, Cardona said.

Chickens are the birds in many small flocks which is why there may be more small flocks infected with this avian flu virus in 2022, she said.

The infections in South Dakota have exploded since March 22 which coincides with the migration of waterfowl across the state.

A March 14 story in KELOLAND News includes fears about how migrating waterfowl could spread bird flu.

“I’m terrified for it,” said Jason Ramsdell, the general manager for Dakota Layers based in Flandreau, said in the March 14 story. “Twenty-thousand geese flying 1,000 feet above you will drop (feces).”

Migration is still a concern for poultry producers, Cardona said.

Prior to 2015, (the poultry science and poultry industry recognized it was a rare event for a wild bird to spread avian flu to the farm, Cardona said. “The focus was on farm to farm spread,” Cardona said.

In 2015, “We recognized the wild birds could bring that right to the door of the barn,” she said.

Handling avian flu when it arrives

Birds in flocks where avian flu is confirmed are euthanized.

It became clear in 2015 that rapid depopulation was critical to stop the spread of avian flu, Cardona said.

“When a flock is infected we move very quickly to humanely depopulate that flock on site and contain that infection so that it cannot spread to other flocks,” Cardona said. “If we delay that depopulation then more birds become infected and produce virus and it becomes a bigger problem for the area.”

The method has been successful so far in 2022 because while there have been cases, there isn’t the lateral or farm to farm movement, she said.

Miller said there is no farm to farm movement in South Dakota.

Even if a flock is euthanized to protect other birds, those are losses that are difficult to cope with, Cardona said.

“When you get a case of (avian flu), when you have an introduction, it feels like failure,” Cardona said. “Really you can’t give into that feeling of failure because we need that producer to now shift his energy and effort to protecting the farms around him. And not allowing that virus to get out of this flock and out of his farm.”

“This is a really difficult emotional and mental health time for farmers,” Cardona said.

It’s important that producers are getting the help and support they need. “This is tough stuff,” she said.

“It’s a tough time right now,” Miller said.

Avian flu in other states

Avian flu has been identified in five sites in Minnesota. About 370,000 birds in commercial turkey flocks have been impacted, according to the USDA.

Twenty birds in a mixed-species site have been infected in one small flock or backyard site.

Avian flu has been identified in 10 sites in Iowa. About 7.6 million birds in three commercial egg laying sites have been impacted.

Another roughly 250,000 birds in commercial turkey production sites have been impacted.

Four sites have had avian flu infections in Nebraska. About 900,000 birds in two commercial broiler sites have been impacted.

About 140 birds in the backyard or small flock sites have been impacted.