Bird flu is burning through the American mid-west. Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are particularly hard hit. Minnesota has declared a state of emergency and the National Guard has been deployed. At this time more than 26 million birds have died from the disease or been euthanized in order to stop the spread.
The virus in this case has been identified as variety H5N2. It was first seen in N. America in British Columbia and then popped up in Washington and Oregon States. This virus is not considered very adept at passing on to humans.
The virus is believed to have originated in Asia and passed into Europe and N. America via migratory birds. Ducks are known to harbour the virus without seeming to get sick. Domestic fowl seem particularly vulnerable to it.
The USDA recommends a strict separation of domestic and wild birds. People who raise poultry in outside areas where the birds can access greens and insects are considered at risk for the avian flu. Scientists are not sure how the disease is spread in this instance as many of the casualties are caged and never go outside.
There is speculation that careless biosecurity methods have helped spread the sickness. This was found to be the case in BC about ten years ago. Another idea put forward by biologists is that infected droppings dry out and the viral particles are distributed by wind. One more way the virus could be spreading is farmers may be inadvertently using water contaminated with the virus to clean and wash down buildings.
In any case, aside from the early deaths of the animals, the economic losses are mounting up. The poultry industry in Minnesota is worth US$1 billion each year. Exports of meat and breeding birds have been stopped. Product stops going to store shelves and the knock on effect sees people laid off from their jobs. The federal government has already set aside US$330 million in emergency funding.
Part of the problem in the spreading of avian flu lies in the very success of the commercial poultry industry. Birds are kept caged or crowded. One facility hit by the virus contained 5.7 million birds. They are stressed. They are bred to produce whether it is meat or eggs and have lost much of their robust good health.
While this variety of avian flu seems harmless to humans, health practitioners are keeping a close eye on it.