Deadly avian flu strikes Nebraska flock of 570,000 in Butler County; in Iowa, virus struck earlier this year than in 2015

By: and - March 22, 2022 2:50 pm

Chickens roost indoors on a Suffolk farm in England after another strain of avian influenza hit in 2007. (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

A deadly strain of avian influenza has been confirmed in a flock of 570,000 broiler chickens in Butler County, Nebraska state agricultural officials said Tuesday.

It was the first case confirmed this year in a commercial flock in the state.

The virus, called highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, spreads easily among birds, through manure as well as nasal and eye secretions. It can be spread by wild birds, contact with infected poultry, equipment and on caretakers’ shoes and clothing, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture said.

The risk of people being infected with the virus from birds is low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States, no human cases of avian flu viruses have been found, officials said.

“Having a second farm in Nebraska confirmed to have HPAI is unfortunate, but not completely unexpected,” Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said in a statement.

Farm quarantined

The affected farm under a state ag department quarantine, officials said. The birds will be “humanely depopulated and disposed in an approved manner,” officials said. A 6.2-mile control zone will be established around the infected area, meaning that any birds or poultry products within that zone cannot be moved on or off the premises.

A similar quarantine zone is being used in Iowa, where  the virus has hit harder than in Nebraska so far this year.


In Nebraska, confirmed HPAI cases this year include:

March 7: A wild goose at Holmes Lake, near Lincoln. Later, infected wild geese were identified in Cedar and Douglas Counties.

March 16: A backyard flock in Merrick County.

March 22: A flock of 570,000 broiler chickens in Butler County.

In Iowa, HPAI detections this year include:

March 1: A backyard flock of 42 chickens and ducks in Pottawattamie County.

March 6: A commercial flock of 50,000 turkeys in Buena Vista County.

March 10: A commercial flock of 919,000 egg-laying chickens in Taylor County.

March 17: A commercial flock of 5.3 million egg-laying chickens in Buena Vista County.
March 20: 
A backyard flock of fewer than 50 chickens and ducks in Warren County.

The disease and struck earlier in the season than during the last outbreak in 2015.

Iowa’s first confirmation of the virus this year came six weeks earlier than in 2015, when a total of more than 32 million birds of infected flocks were eventually culled to prevent the spread of the virus.

Earlier migration

The 2015 outbreak began April 13 in Iowa and lasted for about two months. This year’s first confirmation in the state was March 1. Nebraska’s first case this year was confirmed March 7.

This year the spring migration started earlier than in 2015, said Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, which is attempting to track and contain the disease.

Iowa state officials detected the virus for the fifth time on Sunday, in a Warren County flock of fewer than 50 chickens and ducks.

In the three weeks since the first detection in Pottawattamie County, nearly 6.3 million birds have been euthanized in Iowa because of the virus. In 2015, about 16 million birds were affected in the first three weeks of the outbreak.

Humans are unlikely to be infected, and meat and eggs from infected flocks are discarded.

Farm losses, price increases

In Iowa alone, financial losses from the 2015 outbreak were estimated to be about $1.2 billion, according to a study commissioned by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. About two-thirds of that figure was attributed to lost egg and meat production, and one-third was lost wages for workers at the facilities.

“Bird flu is devastating for farmers,” said Kevin Stiles, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council.

Iowa is the country’s top producer of eggs, and production losses led to a 61% increase in egg prices compared with the previous year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study in 2017.

“Egg consumers are less likely to reduce purchases when prices climb, creating the potential for prices to surge when supplies run short,” the department said at the time.

Consumer prices for chicken and turkey meat did not spike in the same way because of reduced demand, in part because several countries imposed trade restrictions on U.S. poultry exports, the study found.

24-hour response goal

Iowa state agricultural officials said they have a goal to cull infected flocks within 24 hours and to dispose of the birds on site, either by incinerating them or burying them. That’s meant to decrease the risk of transmission to other flocks in nearby facilities, which happened in 2015, Carson said.

“We learned a lot following 2015 in terms of response and protocols,” Carson said.

Dr. Roger Dudley, the Nebraska state veterinarian, said the Butler County farm increased its biosecurity and observational testing when the initial threat of HPAI was announced this year.

The farm notified state ag officials immediately upon noticing an larger than normal number of deaths in the flock. Dudley said.

This report contains material from the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister publication of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network,.

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Cate Folsom
Cate Folsom

Editor-in-Chief Cate Folsom has more than 40 years of experience in daily journalism, spending the bulk of that time at the Omaha World-Herald. She worked in various roles, including features writer, copy editor, Washington Bureau reporter, assistant city editor, investigative team editor, metro-regional editor and editorial page editor.

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.