SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Bird flu is back. The flu, otherwise known as avian flu, has reached several states including Indiana and most recently Maine.
How far and how quickly bird flu spreads could have an impact on the availability of fried egg for breakfast or the wings at a restaurant.
During the 2014-2015 bird flu outbreak, about 43 million chickens (primarily layers or pullets), and 7.4 million turkeys died from the illness or were euthanized, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many of those were in a four-state area that included South Dakota. More than 45 million birds in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska were affected by avian flu in 2015, according to the USDA.
“Clearly there was an impact (on consumers). Clearly, there was shortage, especially of eggs, for a while,” said David Zeman, a veterinarian and executive director of the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association.
Prices for a dozen eggs and other poultry prices increased and there were some shortages of products, Zeman said.
Thousands of birds in a production facility, even open-range birds and backyard chickens were not safe from the spread of bird flu. Wild birds, especially waterfowl, caught and carried bird flu.
“We learned a lot of lessons in 2015,” said Mendel Miller, the assistant state veterinarian with the Animal Health Board in South Dakota.
Biosecurity was a key in 2015 and now, some methods established during 2015 are used daily in 2022, said Miler and David Zeman, a veterinarian and executive director of the South Dakota Poultry Industry Association.
Measures include limiting the number of trucks that enter a production facility site and making sure that delivery trucks, such as feed trucks, are washed and disinfected, Miller said.
Biosecurity is critical because the flu can spread rapidly in birds.
Miller said producers or companies who own more than one poultry site may have an advantage in that they already restrict or limit the number of trucks that enter each facility. They may also own many of the trucks used in production, he said.
South Dakota farmers produce about 700 million eggs a year, according to the South Dakota Poultry Industries Association. The average hen lays 300 to 325 eggs each year. The bird flu of 2015 hit the egg-laying industry hard.
This year’s bird flu strain is similar to 2015.
Wild birds are primary carriers of the high pathogen strain of avian flu, Zeman said. Highly pathogen means the flu is easily transmitted and causes frequent death.
The first case in South Dakota was confirmed on April 2, 2015, in a commercial turkey flock in Beadle County, according to the state Game Fish and Parks Department. By April 28, six confirmed cases of the H5N2 bird flu were been found on South Dakota farms and more than 300,000 turkeys in the state were destroyed, according to a joint news release from Sen. Mike Rounds and Sen. John Thune.
Extra caution will be needed during the 2022 transmission, Zeman said.
“No. 1, be sure to keep flocks away from the wild bird population as best as humanely possible,” Zeman said.
When anyone enters the bird facility site, “be very careful about their shoes and clothing worn on the site,” Zeman said.
Being careful can include requiring safety gear, even showering and fully changing clothes before entering a site, Zeman said. That can apply to a feed salesperson or a repair person who visits a site.
How do you keep poultry away from wild birds?
Ever wonder why so many poultry production facilities are long buildings with roofs and screened windows for ventilation?
Cost-effectiveness is one reason but so is protection for the poultry.
“You don’t have birds flying in and out,” Zeman said of the advantage of housing poultry indoors. Even sparrows can carry bird flu.
There are producers who will choose to have their flocks outdoors, Zeman said. Flocks of birds, including migratory birds, that fly over outdoor pens will drop feces that could be contaminated with bird flu.
“That does increase the vulnerability. They’re going to have to deal with it,” Zeman said.
Miller said producers will also work with S.D. GFP on mitigating exposure of poultry facilities to wild birds including waterfowl sites.
Choosing a site for any new facility has gotten more attention over the past several years, Zeman said. Producers want to make sure there is space between facilities, he said.
The raising of hens for eggs in backyard coops has increased in popularity over the past several years.
The owners of backyard chicken coops also need to be aware of bird flu, Zeman said.
“You need to get your veterinarian involved and learn about these things to be good stewards,” Zeman said.
Bird flu can spread rapidly between neighborhood backyard coops, he said.
Owners of coops need to be mindful of when they clean cages and are with the birds before they go to a larger production facility or another backyard coop.
Will that chicken sandwich be safe?
If bird flu reaches Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota or South Dakota, the product that reaches the carry out bag or the home’s oven will, in general, be safe, Zeman said.
All food products need to be cooked to the proper temperature and that’s not just because of bird flu, Zeman said.
“All birds that go to market are tested before they go to market. They have to be cleared,” Zeman said.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Zeman said of ensuring poultry products are safe for consumption during a bird flu outbreak.
Also, so far, in the decades when bird flu has infected birds, it’s not been a strain that has made people sick, Zeman said.