Summer avian flu outbreak still a mystery

(The Back Road Photographer / Flickr)
(The Back Road Photographer / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | December 1, 2015

After an avian flu outbreak that led to the extermination of more than seven million birds this summer, Iowa turkey farmers are showing resilience in their recovery.

An outbreak of the virulent H5N2 strain early in the summer forced many Iowa turkey farmers to euthanize their entire flocks, especially in northwest Iowa. With seven months until Thanksgiving, some were worried the outbreak would lead to a shortage in the iconic holiday bird.

In reality the holiday turkey market wasn’t as affected by the outbreak because many of the birds used for Thanksgiving and other holidays had already been harvested and frozen. After quick rebounds by affected farmers and increased output efforts by unaffected farmers, this year’s nationwide turkey production was only down three percent according to The New York Times.

The cause of the outbreak of the virus, which originates in Asia, is still unknown. Some suspect poultry may have picked up the virus from the droppings of migratory birds which are unaffected by the virus. This doesn’t explain, however, why birds at large-scale operations, which undergo strict and frequent biosecurity measures, were hardest hit while smaller backyard operations which allow birds to wander outdoors – likely leading to direct encounters with wild birds – were less affected by the outbreak. The close quarters of birds in large-scale operations may have played a factor as particles carrying the virus passed through ventilation systems, allowing multiple birds to be infected at once.

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