MN looks for diseased birds in fight against avian flu
ST. PAUL--As a deadly outbreak of avian influenza continues to spread in Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources is trying to locate disease-carrying birds.
ST. PAUL-As a deadly outbreak of avian influenza continues to spread in Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources is trying to locate disease-carrying birds.
In Minnesota, hundreds of thousands of turkeys have died from the disease or been killed to prevent the virus from spreading.
The biggest infection yet was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which said the disease was detected in a commercial flock of 310,000 in Meeker County.
In their search, investigators are particularly interested in dead birds of certain species, including hawks and eagles, said Michelle Carstensen, a wildlife health program supervisor for the DNR.
"We've increased vigilance statewide, within our agency, for any reports of dead raptors or wild turkeys which could be indicators of virus in the environment," Carstensen said.
For the state's more than $800 million turkey industry, the disease is a big economic worry. The virus can kill thousands of turkeys in a few days, leaving a farmer with a devastating financial loss, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.
"If the virus comes into their flock and it wipes out their flock, they're not getting paid for that," Olson said. "They're not getting any kind of reimbursement. There's no way to insure for that. So they take the full brunt of that."
Those concerns have been heightened this week, as the number of infected flocks in Minnesota has risen to nine. Most have been in the adjacent counties of Stearns, Kandiyohi and Pope in central Minnesota.
The infection of domestic turkeys typically traces back to wild ducks and geese or other waterfowl, which can carry the virus without getting sick, state veterinarian Bill Hartmann said Monday. Investigators believe they carried the virus into the state.
Generally, waterfowl spread the virus through their fecal material. They may deposit the bug directly onto a farm site, or it may be tracked onto a farm by truck tires, human feet or other methods. But workers on turkey farms typically don protective boots before they enter a barn.
If that step is effective, Hartmann said, it's still a mystery exactly how the virus is moving from outside the barn to the inside where the turkeys live.
"We don't know the exact mechanism," he said.
Besides researching that question, investigators also are testing more wild waterfowl near the affected turkey operations, to see if they can locate disease-carrying birds. They think there may be a viral hotspot near the infected farms.
The government does reimburse farmers for apparently healthy birds that are killed to prevent the disease from spreading.
Still, farmers face another economic hit. More than three dozen countries have banned turkey products from Minnesota and other states with outbreaks. Olson said Mexico has been helpful, with only a partial ban in place. He said Mexico is still buying turkey meat that will be processed south of the border into turkey ham or some other product.
Olson said he won't be surprised if a few more turkey operations are hit with avian influenza, largely because so many waterfowl potentially carrying the disease are now migrating through the state. But the virus is not nearly so virulent in summertime warmth, said Olson, who hopes the end of the current outbreak is in sight.
"Normally after mid-May, end of May, then we typically, historically have not seen influenza viruses around," he said.
But that's still a month or more away, and the virus is still active.
Avian flu can be contracted by humans and has led to severe illness and death in some cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection.
However, the current outbreak of avian flu hasn't generated any known human infections, federal officials say.
Most cases of human infection came after close and prolonged contact with diseased birds or their secretions or excretions, the CDC says.
Here are some additional tips from the CDC:
- People should avoid wild birds and observe them only from a distance.
- Avoid contact with domestic poultry that appear ill or have died, and avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.
- People who have had contact with infected birds should watch for possible symptoms such as flu-like symptoms or pink eye.
- There is no evidence that any human cases of avian influenza have ever been acquired by eating properly cooked poultry products.