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Avian Flu Outbreaks Likely Over, For Now

Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media
Workers in Tyvek protective suits remove dead birds from the barns at Sunrise Farms, in Harris, Iowa, last week. Some of the birds from this farm are being composted on an 80-acre plot behind the 24 large barns.

It’s been more than two weeks since the last reported outbreak of avian influenza in Iowa. For now, it appears the virus's spread has stopped.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture says all flocks hit by the disease have been completely euthanized. Efforts are focusing on composting, disinfecting and preventing future outbreaks.

"Even as soon as this week we expect all the layer barns to be disposed of. Then we really move into the next phase from the egg industry standpoint, which is cleaning and disinfecting," says Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association. 

In total more than 48 million chickens and turkeys across 15 states have confirmed outbreaks of the virus, which presents low risk to human health.  Two-thirds of the infected poultry were in Iowa, the nation's leading egg producer.

It is not a surprise that the rash of avian flu outbreaks trickled to a stop in June. The United States Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both anticipated the drop off since direct sunlight and warm, dry weather kills the virus. 

But since avian flu is carried by wild birds, U.S. poultry producers is preparing for more outbreaks that result from the fall migration.

"The industry is bracing for a worst-case scenario across the country in the fall where we might have it spread even further east," says Olson. "We’re hopeful that we’re done with this in Iowa, but we’re certainly going to be on high alert to make sure we can do everything possible to keep it out."

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has extended a state of emergency until July 31. The governor first announced the state of emergency on May 1 roughly two weeks after Iowa's first bird flu case on a commerical turkey farm in Buena Vista County.

Amongst other measures, the declaration lifts weight restrictions for the commercial vehicles hauling poultry carcasses. It also allows the state to establish checkpoints and blockades.