With help from Jessica Lavicky
In December 2014, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 was identified in captive wild Washington state birds. In January, HPAI H5N2 appeared in a Washington backyard flock. According to the CDC, these instances were the first detection of HPAI in the U.S. since 2004, when H5N2 bird flu was recorded in a flock of 7,000 chickens in Texas.
Since being identified in December, HPAI also has been recorded in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi migratory bird paths. Cases have now included wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial flocks.
The first commercial flock found to be infected with H5N8 was in January, 2015, in California turkeys, according to USDA. Additional commercial turkey flocks and one chicken flock were reported with both N2 and N8 throughout late winter, until H5N2 infection of a commercial, 5 million-chicken farm in Osceola, Iowa, was reported by USDA on April 20.
Though the reports of bird flu have expanded rapidly in April, the U.S. has the "best in the world surveillance systems for high-path AI," USDA Chief Veterinary Office Dr. John Clifford said on April 22, and USDA said it also provides 100% compensation to affected producers to encourage reporting.
Agriculture and grain market impacts
Because bird flocks found infected are destroyed, the disease poses a serious threat to poultry and egg producers. Impacts to the grain market and export market also are becoming more apparent as larger commercial flocks are infected and subsequently destroyed.
"The impact [on grain markets] right now is mainly psychological," said Bryce Knorr, Farm Futures senior market analyst. "But traders are wary of underplaying the story, because of what happened with PEDV."
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, a deadly disease that affected millions of piglets in 2013-15, turned out much worse than anticipated, he said, but also cleared up sooner than expected. "The industry’s production rebounded quickly, sending prices sharply lower this winter," he explained.
Knorr explained that when facilities are affected with HPAI and birds are culled, the facility may lose several more production cycles in the interim. That could ultimately dent grain demand, but at the same time, other livestock producers would be increasing production to take advantage of that loss, he said.
"With markets bearish anyway, the tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later," Knorr said.
On the export front, both South Korea and China have banned poultry products from the U.S., while other trading partners have based export bans on state-by-state situations.
Bird flu timeline and human safety >>
Human safety and transmission
Though the avian flu is a critical issue for the poultry industry, USDA emphasizes that though birds are destroyed to prevent further spread of bird flu, poultry products and wild birds are safe to eat if they are properly handled and cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees F.
CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Influenza Division, Epidemiology and Prevention Branch Medical Officer Dr. Alicia Fry notes also that the viruses in question haven't affected human health and as of April 22, the risk was considered low.
Despite the low risk, human infections can be ruled out. "It is possible that we may see human infections," Fry said, and the CDC is taking routine preparedness steps.
Clifford added that because the virus does not fare well in warm weather, impacts of the flu may continue until summer temperatures arrive.
Here's a brief recap of the key events in the high-path bird flu timeline:
Dec. 17, 2014: Pathogenic Bird Flu Found in Wild Birds in Washington State
Jan. 13, 2015: China bans U.S. poultry imports on avian flu concerns
Jan. 26, 2015: USDA confirms bird flu in commercial U.S. poultry flock
Feb. 24, 2015: Poultry faces avian flu threat
March 27, 2015: Avian flu alert: Put your poultry biosecurity on high alert
April 7, 2015: Avian flu found In S.D. turkey farm
April 16, 2015: Avian flu alert: Farmers urged to call USDA if birds seem ill
April 21, 2015: New outbreak of bird flu hits Iowa, this time a large egg farm
April 23, 2015: USDA, CDC officials answer avian flu questions
April 29, 2015: Ag Committees request emergency avian flu assistance