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Bird flu has been found in an Iowa backyard poultry flock

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and U.S. Department of Agriculture say bird flu was confirmed in a non-commercial backyard flock of chickens and ducks in western Iowa’s Pottawattamie County.

State and federal agriculture departments have confirmed a highly contagious viral disease in a non-commercial backyard poultry flock in western Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and U.S. Department of Agriculture said the case of highly pathogenic bird flu was confirmed in a non-commercial backyard flock of fewer than 50 chickens and ducks in western Iowa’s Pottawattamie County.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said it’s the first confirmed case of high-path bird flu in Iowa since 2015. The disease reached Indiana and Michigan in recent weeks and has been sweeping across the eastern U.S. The USDA announced Wednesday that bird flu was also confirmed in a non-commercial backyard flock in Connecticut.

“Given what’s been happening with high-path Avian Influenza across the eastern part of our country, this is certainly unwelcome news, but it’s not unexpected,” said Naig, of the Iowa case.

Because the flock was a small non-commercial backyard flock, there are no impacts to trade or the supply chain, Naig said.

State veterinarian Jeff Kaisand said all of the birds at the Pottawattamie County site have been killed and incinerated to minimize the spread of the disease.

The agriculture department looked for other backyard flocks and commercial operations in Pottawattamie and Mills counties within 10 kilometers of the Pottawattamie County flock. There are no commercial flocks within that 10 kilometer zone, Kaisand said, but there are three other backyard flocks.

Kaisand said since there are no other bird flu cases in Iowa, this case was possibly transmitted through wild birds.

“We can’t say exactly, but there’s a strong concern that migratory birds would be a potential source of the infection,” Kaisand said.

Highly pathogenic bird flu can infect chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and a few other birds. Signs of the viral disease include coughing, sneezing, eyelids swelling and feather loss, Kaisand said.

Kaisand said commercial producers and backyard bird owners should keep their flocks away from wild birds. They should also practice good biosecurity to keep the virus off their farms. Some biosecurity practices include limiting traffic on and off a poultry facility and disinfecting and changing boots before and after going into a farm.

Iowa Poultry Association Executive Director Kevin Stiles said in a statement that Iowa poultry farmers “are always committed to the health and well-being of their flocks.” He emphasized confidence in producers’ biosecurity practices and preparations.

“IPA is maintaining open communications specifically related to biosecurity best practices and offering surveillance testing to farmers,” Stiles said in an email to IPR. “We are confident in our producers’ preparedness and ability to protect their flocks.”

Biosecurity and swiftness: Lessons learned from the 2015 outbreak

Nearly 33 million birds were killed in Iowa in the 2015 outbreak. Jim Roth, the director of the Center for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said state and federal authorities, diagnostic labs and producers are in a better position now to handle an outbreak than they were seven years ago.

“One of the biggest lessons is in improving biosecurity,” Roth said. “We've learned that this virus is very hard to keep out and you have to have better biosecurity than the industry had in 2015.”

Naig also stressed the importance of biosecurity. He encouraged producers to keep a heavy focus on biosecurity over the next couple of months.

He also emphasized state and federal agriculture departments and the poultry industry have learned how to deal with the virus more quickly after the 2015 outbreak.

They learned how to identify bird flu earlier, monitor bird health, test samples quickly, and move areas swiftly into quarantine, Naig said.

“We learned a lot in 2015,” Naig said. “That work should pay off and will pay off now over the next few months.”

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter