Chicken, Turkey Farmers Struggling To Protect Flocks From Bird Flu

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

After battling the bird flu for over a month, farmers in 13 states have lost almost 7 million chickens and turkeys. And scientists have no idea how to stop the spread.

The virus first showed up in a commercial turkey farm in southern Indiana. And it quickly spread around the country. Per the USDA, facilities must follow a strict protocol to ensure no viruses—bird flu or otherwise—enter barns. And when farmers find infected birds, they have to kill and bury the animals in trenches within 24 hours.

But despite all the precautions, the illness continues to spread. And it seems that little can be done to help.

Scientists know that wild birds, such as geese, cranes, and ducks, are responsible for the outbreak. But they’re not completely sure how it’s getting into farms. In order to operate, owners must equip barns with high-end, modern ventilation systems. And people entering the barns must follow specific hygiene practices.

Though some studies suggest that the virus is still making its way in on employees. And it may also be traveling on mice, small birds, or dust particles.

In 2015, farmers dealt with a bird flu outbreak that killed over 50 million turkeys and chickens. That particular avian pandemic cost the U.S. government around $1 billion and poultry farmers another $3 billion.

When farms finally contained the virus, scientists looked into the root cause. And they were unable to zone in on just one thing.

“Even when you look at the final epidemiological analyses from 2015, there was no one source of introduction. They were unable to make a conclusion. I would say each introduction is probably going to be independent. It’s not just one weak link,” said Dr. Yuko Sato, a veterinarian and an associate professor at Iowa State University in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine.

2022 Bird Flu Not Hitting Farmers as Hard as the 2015 Outbreak

Luckily, this year’s outbreak isn’t causing as much trouble as the industry faced in 2015. So far, it hasn’t impacted food pricing and supply. Though Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig does “acknowledge that can be an issue over time.”

Also, the United States Department of Agriculture assures people that the illness will not affect consumers. While it is possible for humans to catch the virus, it can only be transmitted through close contact with infected birds. So getting sick from grocery-bought meat is virtually impossible. And in almost all cases, infected fowl never makes it into the food processing system anyway.

However, the USDA does still stress the importance of proper food handling and notes that people should cook all eggs and poultry 165 F before consuming.