SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This strain of avian flu is intense, smart and sneaky.

This strain of avian flu is infecting domestic poultry and wild birds at record-breaking levels despite that most domestic sites have installed stringent biosecurity since the last major bird flu outbreak in 2015.

“That’s the million dollar question,” Dr. Todd Tedrow said of how avian flu is infecting domestic flocks despite biosecurity.

“Viruses are small. Viruses are smart,” said Tedrow, the director of animal health for the South Dakota Animal Industry Board.

More than 52 million domestic poultry have died this year, which is more than 2015.

And for now, the virus is camped out in South Dakota and in some neighboring states as its hosts, migratory waterfowl, continue to migrate to the south.

Snow geese are the big carriers of avian flu this fall in South Dakota, said Rocco Murano, the senior waterfowl biologist with the state’s Game Fish and Parks Department.

“Snow geese are the vector for the virus,” Murano said. The cases have been significant in the past two weeks, he said.

South Dakota resident Monte James recently recorded video of what appeared to be snow geese infected with avian flu at the Missouri River near Yankton.

Murano said from looking at the video, those snow geese most likely had avian flu. The GFP did not test those birds, he said.

Tedrow said the avian flu impact is worse than in 2015 in South Dakota and across the nation.

“It’s already worse than in 2015,” said Jordan Woodbury, the president and chief executive officer for Dakota Provisions, a grower and processor of turkeys in South Dakota.

The company has euthanized 450,000 birds in the last 10 days, Woodbury said.

South Dakota had 10 infected sites in 2015, according to an avian flu report by the USDA.

So far, avian flu has affected 50 commercial flocks, 10 backyard flocks and affected a total of 2.1 million birds, according to the USDA. Affected means the flu was confirmed at a site and not in all individual birds. But, the birds either die from bird flu or they are culled (euthanized) to stop the spread.

The USDA and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in early November the U.S. was headed for a record avian flu outbreak this year. As of Nov. 25, the USDA said 52.46 million birds were affected.

The domestic birds include chickens and turkeys.

Iowa is a large producer of chickens for meat and egg laying. The state had 15.4 million birds affected by avian flu as of Nov. 25, according to the USDA.

Minnesota had 3.9 million while Nebraska had 6.7 million.

The number of impacted sites are higher so far in 2022 in Nebraska,(7) than the five in 2015. But, the number of sites are lower as of Nov. 25 in Minnesota and Iowa, than in 2015.

The CDC/USDA report for 2015 said avian flu cases were detected in 21 U.S. states from December 2014 to mid-June 2015.

As of Nov. 28, the CDC said 46 states had poultry outbreaks and 47 had outbreaks in wild birds.

The level and spread of avian flu in domestic and wild birds will vary by state.

The CDC said as of Nov. 28, bird flu was detected in 4,021 wild birds.

Michelle Carstensen, the wildlife health program supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Resources, said avian flu is not as active now in waterfowl or wild birds in the state as it was in the spring.

“It’s not at the magnitude as it was this spring,” Carstensen said.

One reason for the decrease in avian flu in wild birds is that wild birds have been able to develop a resiliency to the different strains of avian flu this year, she said.

Domestic birds do not live long enough to develop any immunity or resiliency, Carstensen said.

Snow geese do not typically migrate through South Dakota which can account for why the state has more fall cases than in Minnesota, Murano said.

Bird flu has been detected in several Minnesota counties including Lyon, Murray and Nobles counties in southwestern Minnesota. Iowa counties including Plymouth, Dickinson and Woodbury, have cases of bird flu in wild birds.

Minnesota and South Dakota are still tracking likely and confirmed cases of avian flu in wild birds.

“We advise the public in the case of five more in the same time frame (to contact the DNR),” Carstensen said. “We will do diagnostics when warranted.”

Murano said the public should contact the GFP if they see a dead or sick bird. The GFP may not test that bird but the mortality will be documented, he said.

Also, neither wildlife agency will remove dead birds but will let them decay naturally. The public should also not touch and leave dead wild birds where they are.

Carstensen said if the bird(s) are in an urban area such as park, the agency may remove the birds so that people and pets are not exposed.

Murano said the GFP can help if the bird(s) are in a backyard.

Tedrow said migration of waterfowl in the state will be a key to reducing the spread of the avian flu.

For producers of domestic poultry, “It can’t happen soon enough,” Tedrow said of waterfowl leaving the state.

Murano said the snow geese carrying the avian flu are mainly young geese who have not yet built up a resistance or immunity.

Snow geese may be in South Dakota for about two weeks yet but if the geese build resiliency that will help reduce the spread, Murano said.

In the meantime, “We’re telling producers to button up their biosecurity as much as they can,” Tedrow said.

Dakota Provisions increased its biosecurity after 2015 but the virus is still reaching barns, he said.

“It’s challenging,” Woodbury said.

Woodbury said migration out of the state will help, but then, producers and processors need to think about the next spring migration.

“We’ve got to keep moving forward and trying different things,” Woodbury said. It’s likely the virus is being spread through the air and one option in the spring is to spray the outside of barns with an antibacterial substance, he said.

Until the wild birds migrate from the state and Upper Midwest, the threat this fall will not be over, Tedrow said.