Deadly bird flu infects northwest Iowa turkey flock

By: - March 7, 2022 4:49 pm

The economic impact of avian influenza on the poultry industry can be substantial. (Stephen Ausmus)

A commercial flock of 50,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County was culled after tests confirmed on Sunday that some of the birds were infected by a highly contagious and often deadly avian influenza, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

It was the second time in less than a week that the virus was detected in a flock of domestic birds in Iowa. The other was a backyard flock of 42 chickens and ducks in Pottawattamie County.

The state is monitoring five other commercial poultry facilities that are within about six miles of the Buena Vista site, along with 37 backyard flocks.

“This is certainly a time of heightened alert,” Mike Naig, the state’s secretary of agriculture, said Monday. “It is critically important that livestock producers and their veterinarians closely monitor the health of their animals.”

The Nebraska state veterinarian confirmed Monday that a wild goose infected with the disease was found near Holmes Lake in Lincoln, Neb., the Nebraska Examiner reported.

Buried to prevent spread

The Buena Vista flock was killed, and the carcasses will be composted or buried near the facility to help prevent the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Naig said early detections and swift responses to such infections are key to avoiding a scenario similar to the last outbreak in 2015 that led to the culling of more than 30 million birds in Iowa. That year, several operations were affected in Buena Vista County, including one with about 5.5 million egg-laying hens.

The newly affected flock was composed of 15-week-old turkeys that might have been nearing their butchering weight. It’s likely they were somehow infected by wild birds that are migrating through the state, State Veterinarian Jeff Kaisand said. Infected birds expel the virus in their feces and in nasal and oral secretions.

“You should assume it’s in all wild birds,” Kaisand said of the virus.

Disaster proclamation

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a disaster proclamation for the county Monday to provide more state resources for monitoring and disinfection.

The virus has been confirmed at 23 commercial or backyard operations in a dozen states since Feb. 8, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among the affected flocks were 1.2 million commercial poultry in Delaware, 664,000 egg-laying chickens in Maryland and 360,000 meat chickens in Missouri.

The virus is unlikely to infect humans.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.