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Deadly bird flu outbreak strikes Iowa turkey farmDeadly bird flu outbreak strikes Iowa turkey farm

Iowa is latest state where lethal virus strain H5N2 has been found in poultry flock.

Rod Swoboda 1

April 15, 2015

5 Min Read

An outbreak of bird flu that has affected areas throughout the Midwest in recent weeks has now been found in Iowa. USDA announced April 14 the H5N2 avian influenza strain, capable of killing an entire flock within 48 hours, was found in a commercial flock of 27,000 turkeys in Buena Vista county in northwest Iowa.

Related: Avian flu alert: Put your poultry biosecurity on high alert


USDA did not specify the location or name the farm or its owner. Officials say all turkeys on the farm will be killed to prevent spread of the disease and that none of these turkeys will enter the food system. "We think everything is in place to make sure this outbreak doesn't lead to other outbreaks around it," says Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. "However, we don't know how prevalent this disease is in the wild bird population. Wild birds can spread this disease. It could show up at other farms or in other areas. We don't know if it will, but we're hopeful that it doesn't."

Risk to people from infections of bird flu is considered "low"
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza in the infected turkey flock on the northwest Iowa farm. "This is the first confirmation in a commercial flock in Iowa," notes Northey. "The flock of 27,000 turkeys is located within the Mississippi flyway where this strain of avian influenza has previously been identified."

The U.S. government's Center for Disease Control considers the risk to people from these infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low. No human infections of the virus have been detected at this time.

Samples from the Buena Vista county farm's turkey flock, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at Iowa State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and the USDA/APHIS National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames. APHIS is working closely with the Iowa Department of Agriculture in responding to this incident. State officials have quarantined the premises. "Turkeys and all other birds on the property will be depopulated in an effort to keep the disease from spreading," says Northey.

Related: China bans U.S. poultry imports on avian flu concerns

USDA and state agencies respond quickly to the outbreaks
The United States has the strongest avian influenza surveillance program in the world.  As part of the existing USDA avian influenza response plans, officials say federal and state partners as well as industry are responding quickly and decisively to these outbreaks by following these five basic steps:

1) Quarantine—restricting the movement of poultry and poultry-hauling equipment into and out of the control area;

2) Eradicate—humanely euthanizing the affected flock(s);

3) Monitor the region—testing wild and domestic birds in a broad area around the quarantine area;

4)  Disinfect— it kills the virus in the affected flock locations;

5) Test—confirm that poultry farms in the area are free of the Avian Influenza virus. USDA also is working with its partners to actively look and test for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets and in migratory wild bird populations.


The Iowa Department of Agriculture is working directly with poultry workers at the affected facility to ensure they are taking the proper precautions, says Northey. The state ag department offers the following recommendations.

Be sure to practice biosecurity and take extra precautions
•These virus strains can travel in wild birds without those birds appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick or dead poultry and wildlife. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.

•All bird owners, whether commercial poultry producers or backyard flock owners, should continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials. Do this by calling either the state veterinarian at 515-281-5321 or through USDA's toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

Get information about ongoing bird flu disease incidents
For more information about the ongoing avian influenza disease incidents, visit the APHIS website. More information about avian influenza can be found on the USDA avian influenza page. Information about avian influenza and public health is available on the CDC website. Information is also posted to the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship website at www.iowaagriculture.gov/avianinfluenza.asp. And you can read the complete USDA Stakeholder Announcement by clicking here.

Iowa ranks ninth in the nation for turkey production, with about 11 million birds. Iowa is the nation's leading egg producer, with 60 million laying hens.

Related: Crawford County flock positive for low pathogenic bird flu

This lethal strain of bird flu has been found in a number of states, including Arkansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. More than 1 million birds have been killed by this disease or by authorities working to prevent it from spreading. No human infections have been found with the virus, say USDA officials.

Poultry production is very important to Iowa agriculture
"It's not surprising this disease showed up in Iowa after appearing in neighboring states," says Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association. He says the appearance of the disease should concern the entire ag industry. "Poultry is very important to the state of Iowa, and the turkey industry and egg layers are major consumers of corn and soybeans," says Olson. No disease has been discovered in an Iowa egg-laying operation, not yet anyway.

Scientists and government officials believe the virus is being spread by migratory birds in the Mississippi flyway, where the strain has been identified, notes Olson. The birds are believed to transfer and transmit the disease through their droppings.

The Iowa Turkey industry and its producers have plans in place if a facility is hit by this disease. "Biosecurity efforts are high," says Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation. "But one thing you can't control is Mother Nature and wild birds. We have been watching these recent outbreaks in other states and working and hoping and praying that it wouldn't happen here in Iowa. But now it has."

About the Author(s)

Rod Swoboda 1

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Rod, who has been a member of the editorial staff of Wallaces Farmer magazine since 1976, was appointed editor of the magazine in April 2003. He is widely recognized around the state, especially for his articles on crop production and soil conservation topics, and has won several writing awards, in addition to honors from farm, commodity and conservation organizations.

"As only the tenth person to hold the position of Wallaces Farmer editor in the past 100 years, I take seriously my responsibility to provide readers with timely articles useful to them in their farming operations," Rod says.

Raised on a farm that is still owned and operated by his family, Rod enjoys writing and interviewing farmers and others involved in agriculture, as well as planning and editing the magazine. You can also find Rod at other Farm Progress Company activities where he has responsibilities associated with the magazine, including hosting the Farm Progress Show, Farm Progress Hay Expo and the Iowa Master Farmer program.

A University of Illinois grad with a Bachelors of Science degree in agriculture (ag journalism major), Rod joined Wallaces Farmer after working several years in Washington D.C. as a writer for Farm Business Incorporated.

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