SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As of Oct. 18, South Dakota had 43 reported incidents of avian flu in commercial flocks and six in backyard flocks, according to state veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson.
“If you look nationally, there are certainly more cases across the nation,” Thompson said.
Avian flu has been traced to migrating waterfowl such as geese and ducks.
As migration of waterfowl continues, there is still a chance birds could get infected with the flu, Thompson said.
South Dakota is primarily in the Central Flyway for migrating waterfowl. Waterfowl have four main flyways in North America.
“We’ve got more migrating waterfowl coming through,” Thompson said. “Especially in North Dakota, South Dakota and the Great Plains.”
The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks migration report for Oct. 10-14 said migrating ducks were increasing and there was a strong population of migrating geese in northeast South Dakota.
Ducks were also spotted in the east central part of the state along with a strong population of geese.
“We like to think that birds will move fairly quickly through the state,” Thompson said. But that isn’t always the case as weather has a big influence.
“If they are not chased out by weather…(they hang around),” Thompsons said. “They are still making their way south.”
The GFP migration report also cites the weather. “(The weather) looks to be fairly dry for the next week. Another cold front hit mid-week with strong NW winds blowing for a few days so we should continue to see waterfowl filter down,” it said of the northeast migration.
“Long range forecasts look dry and stable,” the GFP said of east central South Dakota. That means migrating waterfowl will have good access to farm fields.
A quicker arrival of winter would help push the birds along, Thompson said.
The 2022 avian flu numbers in the Midwest are lower than the 2015 outbreak.
Thompson said the flu followed more of the Central Flyway and impacted Midwest states more severely than coastal states.
This year, California, Florida and other coastal states are experiencing more avian flu cases, she said.
That’s one reason for fewer cases in the upper Midwest. Another reason is that commercial flock owners have improved security at their sites so any flu is not being spread from barn to barn or farm to farm.
“Eighty-five percent or more is individual introduction,” Thompson said.
The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, announced earlier this week that it had closed several exhibits for 10 days because of at least two cases of bird flu.
“It’s not surprising that zoos are paying attention to it,” Thompson said.
“No birds at the zoo have been infected with avian influenza,” said Janelle Brandt Registered Veterinary Technician & Registrar at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.
“We have protocols in place to mitigate infection to the best of our ability. We dealt with the concern in 2015 and have base our protocols off what have learned from that outbreak,” Brandt said in an email to KELOLAND News.
The protocol includes using personal protection equipment such as shoe covers, foot baths and gloves in all avian areas, Brandt said. “We have a step by step break down in our protocol for when it appears in surrounding counties or our own county,” Brandt said.
Brandt also said “all collection birds are inside or under a covered roof to reduce fly over exposure.”
Changes made to programs include putting the rehab raptor program on hold and tailoring the ambassador bird experiences to avian flu protocol.
Although it gets cold in South Dakota, the weather has created an advantage of sorts for the zoo.
“We are fortunate that we have inside holdings for our birds unlike institutions in warm weather climates,” Brandt said in the email.
Many commercial flocks are housed indoors and areas which can be opened to the outdoor can be closed when necessary.
Owners of backyard flocks or those who have birds who may get outdoors should be mindful of where migratory birds could be, Thompson said.
If a domestic flock has access to pond that also attracts waterfowl, domestic birds should be kept from that pond.
Grain that spills while filling a grain bin also attracts migrating waterfowl so any spills should be cleaned up, she said.
Although the arrival of much colder weather could prompt migrating waterfowl to leave the state, Thompson said, warmer temperatures happening around the world could mean the avian flu will stick around.
The virus continues to spread in Europe and if warm conditions continue, cases of the virus could happen year round, she said.
Scientists are also exploring if the virus is mixing with lesser viruses so that it’s possible for some birds to develop an immunity.
If so, “hopefully there’d be a decrease in mortality,” Thompson said.