USDA’s Chief Vet: Bird Flu Outbreak is Slowing

USDA’s Chief Vet: Bird Flu Outbreak is Slowing

After six months and nearly 45 million bird losses, the country’s worst outbreak of avian influenza finally appears to be slowing.

“We still continue to find some new cases, but we have seen an overall decline in the number of cases we are finding on a daily basis,” Dr. John R. Clifford, chief veterinary officer the USDA, said on AgriTalk Tuesday. “It would appear we are only the downside.”

That news can’t come soon enough for Midwestern turkey and poultry farmers, who have been dealing with the financial and emotional toll of depopulating their flocks. “It’s a devastating event to producers,” Dr. Clifford said. (Click here to hear from Minnesota turkey producer Greg Langmo of Langmo Farms, who spoke to AgDay about what happened when he discovered avian influenza on his farm.) 

One study pegged the economic cost of bird flu at nearly $1 billion for the Midwest. 

As the number of new cases has slowed, the focus has shifted to bird disposal, which has been challenging.

“The problem we’ve been having is getting the birds from these large layer operations not just depopulated but disposed of properly to prevent further spread,” Dr. Clifford said.

Listen to Dr. Clifford's conversation on AgriTalk here, which begins around the 15-minute mark.

Disposal options include on-site composting, landfills, incineration, or burial.

The next step? Determining how to prevent another outbreak next fall and spring, when wild birds begin migrating again.

“We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best,”  said Dr. Clifford, who stressed that good biosecurity practices are essential now and in the future. “We know the source: The source is wild birds,” which can contaminate the environment and infect a domestic flock in a variety of ways, including wind, people, trucks, and contaminated feed.

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