(The Center Square) – The number of commercial and backyard flocks with confirmed avian flu increased by 36% in the past week, according to data on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.
Three of the 57 new cases reported were in Missouri, bringing the state total to nine cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu Influenza (HPAI) in seven counties—Bates, Dade, Gentry, Jasper, Lawrence, Ralls and Stoddard. Approximately 421,000 birds were in those flocks.
HPAI is now confirmed in 159 flocks in 25 states, affecting approximately 24 million birds. Consumers have no health risk of getting avian flu if they eat poultry. Still, producers are anxious about the virus killing flocks and causing shortages and price increases, especially for eggs before the observance of Easter next week.
The last significant avian flu outbreak occurred in 2014-15, according to an APHIS report. Approximately 7.4 million turkeys, 43 million egg-layers/pullet chickens and a limited number of mixed poultry flocks were infected and died or were depopulated. It resulted in approximately $1.6 billion in direct losses from turkeys and chicken layers that had to be depopulated. According to the report, the cost to the industry was approximately $3.3 billion when factoring in restocking and lost future production.
The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (VMDL), located in Boone County, ran the test when the first presumed case of HPAI was detected in the state on March 3 in Stoddard County.
“When birds present signs of possible infection, such as decreased eating or drinking, they are given throat-swab PCR tests, similar to those performed to screen for COVID-19,” Daniel Shaw, a professor emeritus of veterinary pathobiology and a researcher at the University of Missouri, said in a statement. “These samples are sent to our VMDL here in Columbia, where we work to process the samples to provide results to the poultry producers, often in less than four hours.”
Missouri is sixth in the nation in annual turkey production (16 million) and ninth in broiler chickens (291 million), according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. A 2016 report by MDA found poultry and egg producers account for $1.4 billion or 30% of the state’s livestock market.
“The virus is preserved by cool, moist conditions and protected by mucus and fecal material,” Shaw said. “It can easily infect poultry flocks, particularly those that are free-range or in small, backyard populations.”
Migratory waterfowl traveling the North American flyways can intermingle with infected birds from Europe and Asia. Waterfowl can be infected and show no signs of illness. The disease can spread to domesticated poultry through contact with waterfowl, including water and food sources and fecal matter. The virus can spread to poultry producers of all sizes by contaminated equipment or clothing.
“In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue tracking HPAI and supporting farmers navigating the challenges brought on by this outbreak,” Shaw said. “We are simply doing our part to keep animals healthy, help poultry producers and support our state’s vital agriculture industry.”