Highly pathogenic avian influenza, known as bird flu, has reemerged in commercial poultry flocks in the US. The infection has shown up this season, influencing one turkey farm in South Dakota and another in Utah, causing worries about the potential for additional outbreaks.

Bird Flu Reappears in US Commercial Poultry Flocks

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The U.S. Department of agriculture (USDA) reported that avian influenza, a destructive danger to commericial poultry, was confirmed in a flock of 47,300 turkeys in Jerauld County, South Dakota, on October 4th, and in a farm with 141,800 birds in Utah’s Sanpete County last Friday.

This outbreak comes after similar incidents in two turkey farms in the Dakotas in April, and the standard procedure is to cull infected flocks to prevent the virus from spreading.

The recent reports of avian influenza in U.S. commercial poultry have raised worries among farmers, veterinarians, and health authorities.

The virus was identified in a flock of 47,300 turkeys in Jerauld County, South Dakota, and in a farm with 141,800 birds in Utah’s Sanpete County.

These are the first cases reported among commercial poultry flocks since April, when the disease affected two turkey farms in the Dakotas.

When avian influenza is detected in commercial flocks, the standard practice is to cull the infected birds to prevent the virus from spreading. After culling, the affected farms are thoroughly decontaminated to reduce the risk of a resurgence.

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However, as the South Dakota State Veterinarian, Beth Thompson, pointed out, more cases are expected because the migration of wild birds, which can carry and spread the virus, is just beginning.

The resurgence of avian influenza in U.S. commercial poultry flocks is definitely not a disengaged occurrence. Previously, the US has confronted huge outbreaks of bird flu, causing substantial losses to the poultry industry.

Last year, the US encountered its deadliest outbreak of bird influenza, which resulted in the loss of nearly 59 million birds across 47 states. These losses included egg-laying chickens and turkeys, as well as chickens raised for meat.

The outbreak had a direct impact on consumers, leading to spikes in egg and turkey prices. Additionally, it placed a considerable financial burden on the government, costing over $660 million.

The most costly animal health disaster in U.S. history, before the 2022 outbreak, was in 2015 when avian flu impacted almost 51 million birds in 15 states, resulting in over $1 billion in costs to the government.

While bird influenza diseases in people are generally uncommon, they are not to be taken lightly. The virus does not pose a significant food safety risk as it is unlikely to be transmitted through properly cooked poultry.

However, the concern arises when the virus infects other species, including some mammals, as this increases the potential for the virus to evolve and become more easily transmissible among humans.

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This year, Cambodia reported its third human death from bird influenza, highlighting the continuous danger to human health.

The potential for the virus to mutate and become more transmissible is a significant concern for scientists and health officials worldwide.

The spread of bird flu to humans can occur in regions where close contact with infected poultry is common, such as in parts of Asia and Africa.

The avian influenza virus is accepted to have originated from wild aquatic birds and has evolved over time. Various strains of the virus exist, with some being more pathogenic and deadly than others.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is the most dangerous form of the virus and is capable of causing severe illness and high mortality rates in poultry.

The HPAI strains can be further categorized into subtypes based on the surface proteins of the virus, specifically hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).

The H5N1 and H7N9 subtypes are examples of strains that have caused outbreaks in both poultry and humans, leading to concerns about their potential to spark a pandemic if they were to acquire the ability to transmit easily among people.

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