Avian Flu, Part Two: Playing Chicken with Death

Bird flu seems to be at it again.

A particularly lethal strain of the bird flu (H5N2), which has already killed nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys in the farming industry, has been sweeping through the U.S.  Starting on the west coast, the disease has been rapidly moving east and has the potential to spread to affect at least 19 million egg-laying and broiler chickens in the coming months.  Yet, chickens are not the only fowl that could be in crisis.  Turkeys, which were expected to be less expensive this upcoming Thanksgiving, are very susceptible to the strain and prices are rising.  Similarly, eggs and other forms of fowl have increased drastically in price and will continue to do so through the summer.   The costs to midwestern agricultural economies have been catastrophic (costing Iowa $957 million alone).  In addition, financial costs and physical limitations of infected fowl disposal have caused an enormous strain on midwestern states’ Departments of Agriculture.

The most threatening nature of this flu is that industry standards of sanitation and hygiene have failed to prevent the spread of the disease in large-scale pastured poultry farms.  These so-called “factory farms” dominate the industry and provide the majority of the poultry we see on our tables.  However, the spread of this strain in such densely populated living conditions has thus far been devastating. At this point in time, the exact mechanisms of entry for this strain are not fully understood and all new attempts to prevent transmission have been unsuccessful.

However some good news: this strain has yet to make the jump to humans and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say the jump is unlikely.  The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the bird flu is transmissible to humans and seemed to be at risk of turning into a full-blown flu pandemic in 2003 and 2004.  Yet, the outbreak was contained and seems to pose less of a threat to public health at this point in time.

Sources:

  1. “What the worst bird flu outbreak in U.S. history means for farms.” Erika Fry. June 25th, 2015. Fortune. <https://fortune.com/2015/06/25/bird-flu-outbreak-farms/>
  1. “Florida prepares for arrival of lethal bird flu”.” David Fleshler. Sun Sentinel. June 26th, 2015. < http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/fl-bird-flu-florida-20150626-story.html >
  1. “Bird flu outbreak could affect Thanksgiving turkeys.” Scott Gross. The News Journal. June 27th, 2015. <http://www.delawareonline.com/story/money/business/2015/06/26/bird-flu-outbreak-affect-thanksgiving-turkeys/29337015/>
  1. “Landfills stop accepting bird flu outbreak birds.” KCCI News 8 Local News Team. June 26th, 2015. < http://www.kcci.com/news/landfill-stops-accepting-bird-flu-outbreak-birds/33787730 >
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