Avian influenza affects poultry, people around the globe

H7N9’s return leaves poultry industry in limbo.

Avian influenza, which brought an early demise to nearly 50 million chickens and turkeys and doubled the price of eggs in the U.S. in 2015, has returned.

Recent outbreaks include:

H7N9 avian flu was found among a breeding flock of more than 73,000 chickens at a Lincoln County, Tenn., poultry farm reported Bloomberg. The farm is a major supplier of chickens to Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, Ark.

Because of the revelation, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong all have limited imports of chicken from the U.S.

The Tennessee operation was placed under quarantine, with the entire flock to be destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Thirty poultry farms in the immediate vicinity of the one where H7N9 was found also are under quarantine but appear unaffected.

A less-severe strain of avian flu, H5N2, was discovered less than a week after the Tennessee outbreak in a flock of 84,000 turkeys on a Jennie-O farm in Wisconsin. This strain is considered a low pathogenic one, which the World Organization for Animal Health calls “less virulent” than the H7N9 found in Tennessee.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture source said tests revealed that the Wisconsin strain is of North American wild bird origin and different than the H5N2 strain of 2015 that decimated the U.S. chicken and egg industries.

Since last year, an avian influenza outbreak of the H7N9 has been wreaking havoc in China. The disease has killed more than 100 poultry workers since last October, which is three times more than the number who died in the last major bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

The current outbreak has also caught Chinese egg producers in a state of limbo, as regional authorities have closed poultry markets and restricted the transportation of birds. As a result, egg producers that normally would sell surplus chickens past their egg-laying prime (400 to 500 days) to the markets must sit on them but continue to feed and water them in the hopes that the markets are back online soon.

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRP) reported that Malaysia indicated on March 8 that it had recorded its first H5N1 avian influenza outbreak since 2007.

The outbreak began Feb. 28 in a small flock of 26 birds in which 15 died from the virus and the rest were culled to stop the virus in its tracks. The government also has rolled back poultry movements, ordered screening and increased surveillance.

CIDRP also reported 2017 outbreaks of H5N1 in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Highly pathogenic H5N8 has cropped up in two samples in Poland and Austria, reported the CIDRP.

“These are really stressful times for people,” Dr. Carol Cardona, an avian influenza expert with the University of Minnesota, told MPR News in early March. “2015 was stressful, and what’s happening now is really bringing a lot of it back for people. I hope we make it through this season unscathed.”

Minnesota took a $650 million hit to its economy during the 2015 avian influenza epidemic and many turkey farmers were ruined.

Steve Olson, head of Minnesota’s poultry trade groups, placed the blame squarely on wild bird migrations for the outbreaks in Wisconsin and Tennessee, reported MPR News.

The CDC reported that there have been no human infections from the H7N8 or H7N9 viruses that have been identified in the U.S. to date.

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