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Bird flu could affect Hoosier consumers

Bird flu could affect Hoosier consumers
Impact of avian flu beginning to show up in Indiana

Bird flu is a concerning disease, but yet many people do not know what it is. Humans may fear getting the bird flu, but they are not as susceptible as its namesake – the birds. Currently, there is an outbreak of avian influenza in the United States. Sources say type H5 is highly pathogenic, and was first detected among ducks in the Pacific Northwest.

Related: Avian influenza not a human health threat, poultry industry says

Egg flow continues: Eggs are still moving at production facilities in Indiana, but live chickens can't be exhibited at county fairs.

Many people want to know just how pathogenic this flu is: Can it surface in Indiana? The answer is "yes," but even top researchers aren't sure how it can spread. The H5 type has managed to infect enclosed buildings storing birds. John Clifford, the chief veterinary officer at the USDA, doesn't know exactly how the virus would infect such buildings.

One theory considers poultry feed delivery trucks. If the trucks are not properly disinfected, then the virus can spread via the truck to the next poultry farm. The top vets at the USDA believe poultry flocks will be less susceptible in the summer as hot temperatures kill off the virus. But the virus will likely ramp up again in the fall due to cooler temperatures.

Until researchers understand how the virus can spread so quickly and so easily, poultry farmers in Indiana are at risk of having infected birds.

Though many Hoosiers don't keep poultry, it can affect them as consumers. Egg prices and chicken prices will rise as the supply drops. Iowa has been hit with the avian flu and in May, approximately 40% of its egg-laying hens were dead or dying, the New York Times reported. This is a state that used to produce 1 in 6 eggs in the United States.

While there have been no cases of this specific strain affecting humans, the last outbreak of avian flu did infect humans, according to the World Health Organization.

Related: APHIS report takes preliminary look at bird flu epidemiology

"The majority of human cases of A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry," WHO noted. "There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly cooked food."

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a statement about the need to be cautious to prevent any possible infection in humans, but the average consumer would not contract the bird flu from eating chicken or eggs. Hoosiers are not likely to pick up avian flu and transfer it among each other.

Avian flu has been found in Indiana in birds, according to Denise Derrer of the Indiana Board of Animal Health. In May, a small flock in Whitley County was found to have the H5N8 strain. While this isn't the same strain that has affected much of the poultry industry, it is still the highly pathogenic H5 type of bird flu. The outbreak has been limited to this one flock, and a quarantine has been lifted after birds in the area didn't get sick, Derrer said.

Still, authorities are taking precautionary measures. County fairs and the state fair are not allowed to have live poultry, according to Indiana BOAH.

Ultimately, the average consumer could be affected by the avian flu, due to the principles of supply and demand.

Hoopengardner writes from Henry County. She is an Eastern Hancock FFA member

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