Avian flu, ordinarily a virus that only affects birds, has jumped to humans in the past – and some officials are extremely concerned about one of the virus’s recent evolutions. Officials are so concerned, in fact, that they’ve ordered the culling of approximately 2.75 million chickens in Wisconsin alone in an effort to prevent the virus from entering the food supply. Though no human cases have been detected in the United States, this is the biggest U.S. outbreak of the disease since 2015.
Often called the bird flu, avian influenza virus occurs naturally among wild birds and domestic poultry all over the world. Birds from infected flocks won’t enter the food system. The Wisconsin cull will result in about 6.7 million commercially raised chickens and turkeys being killed nationwide since February. The countries of Mexico, China and Korea have state-specific import restrictions in place that prevent importation of chicken and turkey from areas with known issues.
Birds are culled after outbreaks are discovered, and even when the majority of the birds aren’t infected, the entire flock must be terminated. In addition to Wisconsin, bird flocks are being culled in Maryland, South Dakota, Missouri, Delaware, Indiana and Kentucky.
The newest strain poses a low risk to the public due to the culling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Right now, the H5N1 bird flu situation is primarily an animal health issue.” However, the agency also says, “Given past human infections with bird flu viruses resulting from close contact with infected birds/poultry, sporadic human infections with current H5N1 bird flu viruses would not be surprising, especially among people with exposures who may not be taking recommended precautions.”
Culling is nothing new in the poultry industry; for every egg-laying hen born into the system, a male chick is culled. Experts estimate that around 300 million male chicks are culled each year so breeders don’t incur losses.
What Do You Think?
Are you concerned about the new strain of avian flu, or is it low on your list of things to worry about? Have you had experience with bird flu in the past? I’d love to hear your take on it, so feel free to leave me a note on my Facebook page or on Twitter.